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Vancouver urban trees

Compendium of Best Urban Forest Management Practices

Chapter 3. Benefits of Urban Forests


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Benefits of Urban Forests

Urban forests benefit us socially, environmentally, and economically. These benefits inspire Canadians to protect and improve their urban forests.

The social benefits of urban forests include:

  • Urban forests promote physical activity by providing space for recreation and creating an appealing outdoor environment (Mytton, Townsend, Rutter, & Foster, 2012).
  • Urban forests promote mental well-being and reduce stress, heart rate, blood pressure (Kardan et al., 2015) and incidence of obesity, athsma, and diabetes (Ulmer et al., 2016).
  • Urban forests can reduce crime rates and violence (Parker, 2018; Troy, Grove, and O’Neill-Dunne, 2012).
  • Urban forests can promote healing – people in hospital rooms with views of trees heal faster (Ulrich, 1992; Cooper Marcus, 2007).
  • Urban forests make cities more beautiful (Price, 2003; Tyrväinen, Pauleit, Seeland, & de Vries, 2005) and can hide unattractive features like walls, freeways, and parking lots.
  • Urban forests increase road safety by slowing traffic, reducing stress, or improving driver attention (Mok, Landphair, & Naderi, 2006; Naderi, 2003).
  • Urban forests provide food for people (Colinas, Bush, & Manaugh, 2018).
  • Urban forests promote social interaction and a sense of community, including stronger ties to neighbours, a greater sense of safety, and more use of outdoor public spaces (Kuo, 2003; Westphal, 2003).

The environmental benefits of urban forests include:

  • Urban forests reduce air pollution and provide oxygen (Nowak, Hirabayashi, Doyle, McGovern & Pasher, 2018).
  • Urban forests reduce the urban heat island effect and reduce the temperature of cities, helping cities adapt to climate change (Brandt et al., 2016; Sinnett, 2018; Rahman, Armson, & Ennos, 2014; Edmondson, Stott, Davies, Gaston, & Leake, 2016; Wang & Akbarib, 2016; Livesley, McPherson, & Calfapietra, 2016).
  • Urban forests reduce buildings’ energy use, including heating costs (Nowak, Hoehn, Bodine, Greenfield, & O’Neil-Dunne, 2016; Akbari, 2002; Akbari & Taha, 1992).
  • Urban forests improve water filtration, store water, and reduce stormwater runoff (Berland, 2017; Bartens, Day, Harris, Dove, & Wynne, 2008).
  • Urban forests help provide habitat for wildlife and help preserve biodiversity (Aronson et al., 2017; Alvey, 2006; Mörtberg, 2001).
  • Urban forests provide habitat for wildlife (Threlfall et al., 2015) and promote biodiversity (Sandström, Angelstam, & Mikusiński, 2006).

The economic benefits of urban forests include:

  • Urban forests provide ecosystem services evaluated at $330 million per year for Halifax, Montreal, Vancovuer, and Toronto (Alexander & DePratto, 2014).
  • Urban forests add value of between $1.88 and $12.70 for every dollar spent on maintaining them, depending on the city (Alexander & McDonald, 2014).
  • Urban forests increase property values (Escobedo, Adams, & Timilsina, 2015).
  • Urban forests help create attractive business districts and improve visitors’ perceptions of them (Wolf, 2003).
  • Urban forests have a positive influence on visitors’ perceptions of a city (Andrada & Deng, 2010).
  • Urban forests provide space for recreation (Schroeder, 2009; Miller, Hauser, & Werner, 2015).

To learn more about the benefits of urban forests, visit Tree Canada’s web page on the Benefits of Trees.

A note on the citations: We selected seminal and recent literature on the benefits of urban forests.

Further reading:

Akbari, H. (2002). Shade trees reduce building energy use and CO2 emissions from power plants. Environmental Pollution, 116(1), S119-S126. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0269-7491(01)00264-0

Akbari, H. & Taha, H. (1992). The impact of trees and white surfaces on residential heating and cooling energy use in four Canadian cities. Energy, 17(2) 141-149. https://doi.org/10.1016/0360-5442(92)90063-6

Alexander, C. & DePratto, B. (2014). The Value of Urban Forests in Cities Across Canada. Special Report – TD Economics. Retrieved from https://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/UrbanForestsInCanadianCities.pdf

Alexander, C. & McDonald, C. (2014). Urban Forests: The Value of Trees in the City of Toronto. Special Report: TD Economics. Retrieved from https://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/UrbanForests.pdf 

Alvey, A. A. (2006). Promoting and preserving biodiversity in the urban forest. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 5(4), 195-201. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2006.09.003

Andrada, R., & Deng, J. (2010). Enjoying Green Cities: Assessing Visitors’ Attitudes and Preferences for Urban Forests in Washington, D.C. Proceedings of the 2010 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium, 168-174. Retrieved from https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/gtr/gtr-p-94papers/25andrada-p94.pdf

Aronson, M., Christopher, F. J., Lepczyk, A., Evans, K. L., Goddard, M. A., Lerman, S. B., . . . Vargo, T. (2017.) Biodiversity in the city: key challenges for urban green space management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15(4), 189-196. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.1480

Bartens, J., Day, S. D., Harris, J. R., Dove, J. E., & Wynne, T. M. (2008). Can Urban Tree Roots Improve Infiltration through Compacted Subsoils for Stormwater Management?. Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract – Bioremediation and Biodegradation, 37(6), 2048-2057. Retrieved from https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/jeq/abstracts/37/6/2048

Berland, A., Shiflett, S. A., Shuster, W. D., Garmestani, A. S., Goddard, H. C.,. . .Hopton, M. E. (2017). The role of trees in urban stormwater management. Landscape and Urban Planning, 162, 167-177. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2017.02.017

Brandt, L., Derby Lewis, A., Fahey, R., Scott, L., Darling, L., Swanston, C. (2016). A framework for adapting urban forests to climate change. Environmental Science & Policy, 66, 393-402. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2016.06.005

Colinas, J., Bush, P., & Manaugh, K. (2018). The socio-environmental impacts of public urban fruit trees: A Montreal case-study. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. In press, corrected proof. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2018.05.002

Cooper Marcus, C. (2007). Healing Gardens in Hospitals. Interdisciplinary Design and Research, 1(1). Retrieved from https://intogreen.nl/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/cooper_marcus.pdf

Edmondson, J. L., Stott, I., Davies, Z. G., Gaston, K. J., & Leake, J. R. (2016). Soil surface temperatures reveal moderation of the urban heat island effect by trees and shrubs. Scientific Reports, 6. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep33708

Escobedo, F. J., Adams, D. C., & Timilsina, N. (2015). Urban forest structure effects on property value. Ecosystem Services, 12, 209-217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2014.05.002

Kardan, O., Gozdyra, P., Misic, B., Moola, F., Palmer, L. J., Paus, T., & Berman, M. G. (2015). Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports, 5. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/srep11610

Kuo, F. E. (2003). Social Aspects of Urban Forestry: the Role of Arboriculture in a Healthy Social Ecology. Journal of Arboriculture, 29(3),148-155. Retrieved from https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/13860

 Livesley, S. J., McPherson, E. G., & Calfapietrac, C. (2016). The Urban Forest and Ecosystem Services: Impacts on Urban Water, Heat, and Pollution Cycles at the Tree, Street, and City Scale. Journal of Environmental Quality, 45(1), 119-124. doi:10.2134/jeq2015.11.0567

Miller, R. W., Hauser, R. J., & Werner, L. P. (2015). Urban Forestry: Planning and Managing Urban Greenspaces (3rd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Mok, J.-H., Landphair, H. C., & Naderi, J. R. (2005). Landscape improvement impacts on roadside safety in Texas. Landscape and Urban Planning, 78, 263–274. Retrieved from https://www.naturewithin.info/Roadside/RdsdSftyTexas_L&UP.pdf

Mörtberg, U. M. (2001). Resident bird species in urban forest remnants; landscape and habitat perspectives. Landscape Ecology, 16(3), 193-203. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1011190902041

Mytton, O. T., Townsend, N., Harry Rutter, H., & Foster, C. (2012). Green space and physical activity: An observational study using Health Survey for England data. Health Place, 18(5): 1034-1041. doi: [10.1016/j.healthplace.2012.06.003]

Naderi, J.R. (2003). Landscape Design in the Clear Zone: Effect of Landscape Variables on Pedestrian Health and Driver Safety. Transportation Research Record, 1851, 119-130. Retrieved from https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/syllabi/435/Articles/Naderi%20article.pdf

Nowak, D. J., Hirabayashi, S., Doyle, M., McGovern. M., & Pasher, J. (2018). Air pollution removal by urban forests in Canada and its effect on air quality and human health. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 29, 40-48. Retrieved from  https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/jrnl/2018/nrs_2018_nowak_001.pdf

 Nowak, D. J., Hoehn, R. E., Bodine, A. R., Greenfield, E. J., & O’Neil-Dunne, J. (2016). Urban forest structure, ecosystem services and change in Syracuse, NY. Urban Ecosystems, 19(4) 1455-1477. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11252-013-0326-z

Parker, T. S. (2018). Trees and crime in urban areas: recommendations. Forestry Research and Engineering, 2(3), 127-129. https://medcraveonline.com/FREIJ/FREIJ-02-00037.pdf

 Price, C. (2003). Quantifying the aesthetic benefits of urban forestry. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 1(3), 123-133. https://doi.org/10.1078/1618-8667-00013

 Rahman, M. A., Armson, D., & Ennos, A. R. (2015). A comparison of the growth and cooling effectiveness of five commonly planted urban tree species. Urban Ecosystems, 18(2), 371-389. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11252-014-0407-7

Sandström, U. G., Angelstam, P., & Mikusiński, G. (2006). Ecological diversity of birds in relation to the structure of urban green space. Landscape and Urban Planning, 77(1-2), 39-53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2005.01.004

Schroeder, H. W. (2009). Variations in the perception of urban forest recreation sites. Leisure Sciences, 5(3), 221-230. https://doi.org/10.1080/01490408309513004

Sinnett, D. (2018). Mitigating air pollution and the urban heat island effect: The roles of urban trees. In I. Douglas, D. Goode, M. Houck, & D. Maddox (Eds.), Handbook of Urban Ecology. Routledge. [In Press] Retrieved from http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/38014

Threlfall, C. G., Walker, K., Williams, N. S. G., Hahs, A. K., Mata, L.,. . .Livesley, S. J. (2015). The conservation value of urban green space habitats for Australian native bee communities. Biological Conservation, 187, 240-248. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320715001895

Troy, A., Grove, J. M., & O’Neill-Dunne, J. (2012). The relationship between tree canopy and crime rates across an urban-rural gradient in the greater Baltimore region. Landscape and Urban Planning, 106, 262-270. Retrieved from https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/40701

 Tyrväinen, L., Pauleit, S., Seeland, K., & de Vries, S. (2005). Benefits and Uses of Urban Forests and Trees. In C. Konijnendijk, K. Nilsson, Th. B. Randrup, & J. Schipperijn (Eds.), Urban Forests and Trees (81-114). New York: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Retrieved from  https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/41336985/trees-biosucceed.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1543642591&Signature=cgaYSfvO3E5eYb2%2B92Vyjo5Usws%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBenefits_and_Uses_of_Urban_Forests_and_T.pdf

 Ulmer, J. M, Wolf, K. L., Backman, D. R., Tretheway, R. L., Blain, C. J. A., . . . Frank, L. D. (2016). Multiple health benefits of urban tree canopy: The mounting evidence for a green prescription. Health & Place, 42, 54-62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2016.08.011

 Ulrich, R. S. (1992). How design impacts wellness. Healthcare Forum, 35(5), 20-25. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Roger_Ulrich4/publication/13177406_How_Design_Impacts_Wellness/links/54b3afd80cf26833efcea0e3/How-Design-Impacts-Wellness.pdf

 Wang, Y. & Akbarib, H. (2016).The effects of street tree planting on Urban Heat Island mitigation in Montreal. Sustainable Cities and Society, 27, 122-128. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2016.04.013

 Westphal, L. (2003). Urban greening and social benefits: a study of empowerment outcomes. Journal of Arboriculture, 29(3), 137-147. Retrieved from https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/14148

Wolf, K. L. (2003). Public response to the urban forest in inner-city business districts. Journal of Arboriculture, 29(3): 117-126. Retrieved from https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/34957

Kuo, F. (2003). The role of arboriculture in a healthy social ecology. Journal of Arboriculture, Vol. 29 (3), pp. 148-155.

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