Around the world, downtown communities have been faced with various adaptation challenges from climate change impacts.
In Canadian cities, forest cover has been declining for more than two decades. With over 82% of the population now living in urban centres, it has become increasingly important to recognize the benefits trees provide us. Trees help us live longer and healthier lives, reducing stress and improving mental health. They beautify our communities, increasing the property value of our businesses and homes. And finally, they reduce the effects of climate change, naturally cooling our cities.Tree Canada
High impact development has left areas without adequate green infrastructure to control local temperatures, regulate flooding impacts, improve air pollution, alongside other environmental concerns. These ecoservices are essential for thriving, sustainable economies. Since downtown areas already intentionally consider multi-purpose land use, BIAs are strongly positioned to capture this value.
Green infrastructure, or living infrastructure, is the collection of systems, whether engineered or not, that support inclusive communities and increase resilience to climate change. Urban street trees (USTs) are one arm of the urban forest (UF) system within urbanized areas. An UST is any street facing tree which, collectively, make up a significant layer of an UF – alongside other woody plant vegetation in and around our homes & businesses. We are only just beginning to discover the hidden value of trees.
USTs provide a range of benefits & opportunities for BIAs. In a TD Report by Alexander et al. (2014), the Toronto Urban Forest is worth an estimated $7 billion CAD (or $ 700 CAD per tree). Similar research was recently recreated in Downtown St. Catharines through the St. Catharines Downtown Association. The report found that the collection of 247 street trees downtown was valued at $ 240,859 to solely replace the trees – not considering all the additional costs of preparing planting sites and maintaining the trees afterwards. By investing in trees, downtown areas invest in infrastructure that creates liveable, walkable cities and enhances the overall experience of being downtown – and the benefits don’t stop there.
Improving curb appeal with green infrastructure provides many advantages for private and commercial property owners as well. For example, research demonstrates that properties that feature large mature trees can sell up to 5% more than properties without trees. This can bring, on average, over $19,000 worth of added value at point of sale (POS). Beyond POS, studies suggest that business areas with dense tree canopy are experiencing higher overall traffic with consumers willing to spend 9-12% more for products. 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.” From climate action to health & wellbeing and strong sustainable economies, trees offer a wide range of environmental, social, and financial benefits.
If this article touched home, the best way to begin advocating for a greener BIA is to learn more about the options available.
Liz Benneian has been a phenomenal resource for many communities across Southern Ontario. Liz provides webinars and public presentations through Ontariogreen that are both accessible and impactful. For questions or to learn more about the available programs, Liz and Ontariogreen can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (905) 562-3819.
For more information on the Street Tree Project in Downtown St. Catharines visit: www.mydowntown.ca/urban-street-trees
Article by Lindsay Taylor – Sustainability Director, St. Catharines Downtown Association