The benefits of an urban Forest go beyond water and air quality. A good tree coverage and other landscaping can serve as an economic benefit and make people more willing to spend more in a business district, said Kathleen Wolf, University of Washington College of the Environment research scientist.
“Trees are more than being pretty. It’s more than just aesthetics,” she said.
Speaking at Baton Rouge Green’s Arbor Day luncheon at LSU on Friday, Wolf talked about the many social aspects of urban forestry.
“The work I bring to all this is why. Why do we want to plant trees in our communities,” Wolf said. “We know that trees are not necessarily popular with everyone.”
One research project she worked on looked at how people perceive business districts based on how much tree coverage was present, not just in front of one business, but in the district as a whole. People were shown pictures of a business street with heavy tree coverage, light tree coverage, all the way to nothing but bare sidewalks.
People were asked to rate which one they prefer and the majority chose tree cover while business owners much preferred the bare sidewalks. Business owners had concerns about trees hiding their business from customers, having to deal with tree debris and even damage from the tree root system.
Wolf said they also gave people a list of common products they would find in a business district and asked people how much they would pay for each while showing a picture of a business street with urban forest coverage and one without.
What they found is that people were willing to pay 9 percent to 12 percent more for the same product in businesses where there was a tree canopy than without. People also had a more positive outlook as to the quality of service and products at the businesses with the urban canopy, she said.
“In terms of visual presence, trees matter,” Wolf said.
Wolf said showed a picture of the main street of Bainbridge Island, Washington, where trees combine with facing benches to create more of a living room type feel. It’s a place meant to encourage lingering in the business district, she said.
In addition, studies are finding that urban forestry has measurable health benefits as well, Wolf said.
One study showed a correlation between reducing low birth weight in children and the proximity of vegetation at the home.
Scientists also studied counties in 15 states that were infected with a common pest. The research was to determine the health of the county while the trees were in place compared to after they had to be cut down. The scientists found an increase in deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases after the trees were cut down, Wolf said. The opposite was found when it came to helping people recover from illnesses. When surgery patients are given a recovery room with a view to nature, researchers have found patients have less pain, fewer minor complications and stay in the hospital for less time, Wolf said.
“Hospitals are now taking this seriously and are building in green spaces to their recovery areas,” Wolf said.
Other studies showed that children who go to schools with a view of trees get better test scores and have a better graduation rate, she said.
“Trees, parks and gardens are essential in our communities. They’re not just nice to have,” Wolf said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.