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Street trees are staples of city living that are often taken for granted or brushed off as a nuisance. But there’s a reason you choose to run down that seemingly calm and cool street instead of the hot and sunny one closer to your house. There’s a reason that all the larger Victorians and Tudor mansions have a fully mature canopy when your street has small, dwindling street trees—or none at all.
Trees should not be a luxury only the rich can access; they are necessary for all communities to have a healthy ecosystem. Some cities are starting to realize this, using tree planting to battle climate change and add value to underserved communities. Unfortunately, public sentiment has yet to catch up.
Bottom-line focusing landlords, reluctant residents, and poor city outreach and policy stand in the way of equitable access to street trees. However, with a little planning (and volunteering), every old house community can enjoy a lush, cool city experience vs. one stricken with scorching asphalt and a lack of wildlife. Here’s a primer on why street tree revitalization is essential in cities across the country.
Tree Equity Score
The first step in assessing the health of a given community’s trees is to look at its Tree Equity Score. The Tree Equity Score is a measurement used to assess the distribution of trees in a city or neighborhood. It considers factors such as the number of trees, their size and species, and the benefits they provide, such as shade and air quality improvement. A high Tree Equity Score indicates that trees are well distributed throughout the area and provide equal benefits to all community members. Low Tree Equity Scores may suggest that some neighborhoods or populations are not receiving the same benefits from trees and may benefit from targeted tree planting efforts.
The goal of the Tree Equity Score is to highlight the discrepancies in tree cover on city streets throughout America.
Full Canopy vs. Low Canopy Coverage
Full canopy coverage refers to a situation where trees have grown to the point where their branches and leaves form a continuous layer or “canopy” over an area. This can provide many benefits, such as reducing the heat island effect, improving air quality, and providing habitat for wildlife.
In contrast, low canopy coverage means that there are fewer trees, or they are smaller and do not form a continuous canopy. This can result in less shade and reduced benefits for the environment and the community. In some cases, low canopy coverage may result from natural processes such as tree mortality, but in other cases, it may be due to a lack of tree planting or poor tree care. The Tree Equity Score can tell you whether your neighborhood has full canopy or low canopy coverage.
Benefits of Street Trees
Street trees are an important part of a city’s landscape, providing numerous benefits for people and the environment. Some of the key benefits include:
- Shade. This reduces the heat island effect and makes outdoor spaces more comfortable for people.
- Improved air quality. This happens when trees filter pollutants and release oxygen.
- Habitats for wildlife. Trees provide homes for birds and insects, increasing biodiversity in densely populated areas.
- Aesthetic appeal. This can increase the value of a neighborhood, making it more attractive and inviting for residents and visitors.
- Psychological benefits. Trees can reduce stress✓ and promote a sense of well-being.
- Physical benefits. Trees reduce noise pollution and provide barriers against strong winds.
- Economic benefits. A healthy treescape can increase property values and provide opportunities for community engagement and stewardship.
Drawbacks of Street Trees
Nothing is without its cons, but many of these issues can be mitigated. Here are some potential problems with street trees and how they can be addressed.
|Deferred maintenance and injury||Hire more city crews to trim trees and inspect for signs of rot, disease, and damage|
|Increase allergy incidence||Plant appropriate species for the area to reduce overall pollen counts|
|Lack of compliance||Educate residents about watering newly planted trees and provide avenues for assistance and access to volunteer organizations|
|Landlord Opt-Out||Force landlords to provide one city-maintained street tree unless they have a valid reason to opt-out (sewer interference, unstable ground/sidewalk, etc)|
|Leaf clean up||Organize community leaf clean-up events, where volunteers come together to rake, and bag leaves for disposal or composting.|
|Too much shade||Hire city contractors to prune the trees appropriately to allow more sunlight to reach the ground and prevent overgrowth.|
Popular Species to Plant
You don’t want to plant just any type of tree in front of your house. Explore some popular species of street trees that are designed to grow near the curb—and their benefits.
- Maple trees are known for their beautiful fall foliage. They can provide shade and are relatively resistant to pollution.
- Oak trees can provide a significant amount of shade. They are also popular in densely populated areas for their aesthetic value and ability to withstand harsh environments.
- Elm trees are known for their distinctive vase-shaped canopy and ability to tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. They are often used in city landscapes for their shade and ornamental value.
- Birch trees are known for their white bark and delicate leaves. They are often used for their attractive appearance and ability to tolerate compacted soils.
- Pine trees are popular for their ability to tolerate various growing conditions and provide year-round interest with their evergreen needles.
- Ash trees are known for their distinctive opposite branching pattern and are often used in tight landscapes for their shade and ornamental value.
- Linden trees are known for their fragrant flowers and ability to tolerate various growing conditions. They are often used for their shade and ornamental value.
- Dogwood trees are known for their beautiful flowers and colorful fall foliage. They are often used for their ornamental value and ability to tolerate harsh growing conditions.
- Honeylocust trees are also known for their delicate foliage and ability to tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. They are prized for their shade and ornamental value.
How You Can Help
One way to get involved in a community effort to revitalize street trees is to join a local tree advocacy group. These organizations often work with local governments and community groups to plan and implement tree planting and care projects.
By joining a tree advocacy group, you can learn more about the importance of street trees and how they can benefit your community. You can also plant actual trees. In doing so, you can help to raise awareness about the importance of street trees. Volunteering is a great way to make a tangible difference and help to create a healthier, more sustainable environment.