“It’s much bigger than bullet points. From the moment
we are born, it affects us. Studies show that trees and
nature are connected to healthier infant birth weight
to our last days when elders have better cognitive
function if they have nature in their surroundings,
Wolf said some cities — such as Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; New York; Chicago; Minneapolis; and St.
Paul, Minn. — are making strides to add trees and
“They understand the health and environmental benefits,” she said. “So the first step to improving things is to
understand what cities have. They can do this by using
a tool called i-Tree for an urban tree canopy assessment.
You can also do sampling by having people go out and
do direct measurements or even by using aerial photos
of satellite imagery or a radar-based sensor. Once you
know that, you can begin to make informed management decisions to help plan where you want to go.”
She said the next question city leaders must ask is “how
do we get there as a community?” While parks and
open spaces are a key part of the puzzle, she said private
property owners must be included in the discussions
because they control the largest amount of land in cities.
But parks are important, she said, lauding Chicago’s
new Bloomingdale Trail. “Other cities are using old rai-lyards, riverfronts or areas cut off by freeways to turn
into parks,” she said. “After the Bay Area earthquake
knocked down San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway,
the city chose not to rebuild it and instead turned that
wharf area into a great civic space with squares and plazas and a palm-lined boulevard.”
Wolf said she has high hopes that civic leaders will
seek to add more trees and parks to their communities.
“In a general sense, I’m positive because most people
have a good, even emotional feeling about trees,” she
said. “But there are still a lot of cities that don’t see an
investment in trees as essential. Nice but not essential.
“Unfortunately, too many people still think of nature
as something outside cities in national parks or big
forests. They think you have to get away from it all
to experience these benefits — even though research
shows that just a few minutes of just looking out your
window or a short walk out the door away from your
office in a quality green space is good for your physi-
cal and mental health.”
That means there is still work to be done, Wolf said.
“There is a gap, a ‘swamp’ where messages and perceptions don’t connect,” she said. “Some leaders don’t
recognize that even ordinary single trees, small parks
and trees along the street are worth the investment.
So we need to keep the discussion going.”
Brian E. Clark is a Wisconsin-based journalist and
a former staff writer on the business desk of The
San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a contributor
to the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times,
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dallas Morning News
and other publications.
Cities are making strides to add
trees and become greener.
Photo by Jeff Krause
Courtesy of USDA; photo by Lance Cheung