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Tip of the Week: The economic benefits of trees

The evidence is clear. Ensuring a healthy tree canopy across a community or city is key to improved health for citizens, reductions in certain types of crime, and, if the trees are on school properties, improved school achievement in young students. 

What more can an increase in the number of trees in Orillia do for us? Well, how about providing a variety of economic benefits—higher property values, reduced energy costs for householders, cheaper remediation of brownfields, an increase in customers for local businesses, and more good jobs. In addition, the planting of trees is one of the most economical—read “cheapest”—ways of improving these economic benefits!

“Trees can raise the average home’s value by more than $19,000—and save you $180 or more a year on your energy bill.” A property with healthy, mature trees could easily sell in excess of 5% more than a house without. Slower growing trees like oak or maple provide more shade and last longer. In addition, properly located trees can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and save 20% on heating costs. Plant needle-bearing trees on the north and west side of your home to block winter winds. Plant deciduous varieties on the south end of your lot to provide shade on hot summer days. But be careful. Good maintenance is required. Trees with dead branches and missing bark will actually decrease your home’s value.

Orillia, with a history of industrial activity, is no stranger to brownfield sites. Even the proposed waterfront development the City has just announced will require remediation of the site because of former presence of train tracks in the area—with resulting contamination. The waterfront site, given the need for rapid remediation, will see the usual methods used to clean it up.  However, if the City has identified other brownfield sites, the planting of trees on them should be considered. Research shows that, over a long term, planting certain types of trees—willows, poplars and maples, for example—will remove many contaminants from soil. This process is called “phytoremediation.” While clearly it won’t work in the short term for development projects, planting trees on identified brownfield sites that are unlikely to be developed in the short term has real economic benefits. Traditional remediation methods often require soil to be removed for washing, burning, or chemical stabilization which drastically alters the landscape and disturbs local ecological systems. Phytoremediation—tree planting—beyond removing heavy metals, can control erosion on the site and, by reducing dust that can be blown by winds, reduce health risks to people living close to such sites. In addition, the cost of this process of remediation is 50% lower than traditional methods. However, as mentioned, trees and plants take time to absorb toxins, so they are not the most effective approach for rapid development projects.

Research in the U.S. has also shown that shoppers in business districts with robust tree canopies will spend 9-12% more for products. In addition, “Shoppers indicate that they will travel greater distance to visit a district having high quality trees, and spend more time there once they arrive.” Downtown areas require careful planning to ensure that trees don’t obscure signage and that their placement and shade, whether on a downtown street or in a parking lot, enhances the appeal of areas for visitors and shoppers. One need only look at Orillia’s downtown parking lots and shopping mall areas like those in West Orillia—on both sides of Highway 12—to imagine how those areas could be transformed by the presence of mature trees. 

And it’s not just the customers who benefit from—and enjoy—green spaces with mature trees. Views of nature, even office plants, help workers reduce stress, boost productivity, improve job satisfaction, and stay more attentive. As the vibrantcitieslab.com website notes, “Call center workers with views of vegetation handled calls 6-7% faster.” 

Finally, of course, a city with an extensive mature canopy will require people to look after those trees. The result? An increase in good jobs. Just one statistic—though an American one—indicates the employment impact of urban forests: “In 2009, the growing urban forestry market in California supported 60,067 jobs resulting in $3.3 billion individual income.”

With all of the benefits of a healthy tree canopy over us, including the economic, shouldn’t the planting start now?

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