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Green Living: The Surprising Truth About Urban Trees

Posted on July 01, 2013

Most city-dwellers operate under the assumption that, like binoculars and snow tires, the United States Park Service is simply irrelevant to their urban existence.  But, as it turns out, the Forest Service has been hard at work pounding the pavement of America’s major city centers to bring us the surprising truth about city trees: they’re saving our lives, quite literally.

In the first of two recently published studies, director Geoffrey Donovan and his team revealed a direct and dramatic correlation between loss of trees and loss of human life in city centers. According to the study, as deforestation of urban areas spread across the country there was an increase in mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness: 6,113 related lower respiratory system-related deaths and 15,080 cardiovascular-related deaths.

According to Donovan, the research warrants a value shift in popular opinion; rather than equating trees with recreation/decoration we need to think of them as pillars in the infrastructure of public health. We need to starting taking trees very seriously.

The second study surveyed the tree populations of 10 major cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Syracuse) to determine how effectively they were filtering out air pollutants.  And guess what? They’re doing a phenomenal job, so much so that urban trees and forests are saving an average of one life per year per city. That means in New York City alone, trees save an average of eight lives annually.

We hope that this newly reveled super power will inspire city residents to get involved planting more trees in their communities.

If you’re looking for ways to get involved, there are dozens of non-profits looking for volunteers.  Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco for instance has planted more than 47,000 trees since 1981.  They have also earned bragging rights by planting 43% of the city’s street tree canopy, and now, as it turns out, saving some lives along the way!

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