The first public item in our council agenda on Tuesday was trees.
Well, it was called “Presentation on the Environmental, Economic and Health Benefits from a Healthy Urban Tree Canopy System,” but that was really a long way of saying that we talked about trees.
Councilmember Kozachik and I requested that we have a presentation on the subject of what Dr. Tanya Quist, the University of Arizona professor who spoke to us, calls urban forestry.
Increasing our urban tree canopy is not just a matter of making our thoroughfares and neighborhoods look nice, there are a variety of benefits to our city as well.
Some of the more obvious benefits are environmental. More trees mean more habitat for birds, lizards and other wildlife that makes our region one of the most biologically diverse in the country. Trees also absorb pollutants and greenhouse gases. The pollution fighting benefits of trees are not only in the air, but trees can absorb heavy metals in the soil.
Also, trees are a way of fighting the heat island effect. Tucson, like most other cities, has acres upon acres of concrete and asphalt that absorb and radiate the sun’s heat. This creates a measurable temperature difference between Tucson and surrounding undeveloped areas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an effective tree canopy can reduce the heat island effect by 2 to 9 degrees.
As trees absorb water from the soil, they can mitigate the effects of flooding as well. This means less damage to property, but also less damage to our roads.
One thing that was highlighted that doesn’t get talked about a lot are the economic benefits. Some are very tangible, for example, a well-placed tree on a property can reduce energy use by 5%. City roads and other infrastructure that can be damaged by ultraviolet light can have some of those effects mitigated by shade, thus reducing maintenance costs.
There are less tangible benefits as well. A tree canopy with local trees becomes a unique signature for Tucson. A picture of a street lined with mesquites and palo verde (and maybe a less shade giving saguaro here and there) is definitely Tucson. Those aesthetic aspects can pay off in other ways as well. A commercial district or business with trees can see a 9% boost in visits. A neighborhood with a mature tree canopy can see property values increase by as much as 15%.
We all feel better around trees, and the psychological effects are documented. Studies have shown that patients in hospital settings recover more quickly if they can see a tree outside. There are studies that show calming effects to working and living around trees that include reduced blood pressure, less activity in the areas of the brain associated with mental illness and even less crime.
My colleagues and I have known about these benefits for a long time, and we have put programs in place to encourage more tree growth. For example, I pushed for our water harvesting ordinance to help both neighborhoods and individual property owners who want more trees and gardens. The Proposition 407 bonds that passed last year not only included money for parks, but also for urban greenways.
With rising temperatures, continued pollution challenges and more intense monsoon storms, having more trees is not just a matter of making our city look nicer, it’s a matter of long term survival for our community.
If you'd like to see the presentation in PDF format, you can click here.
Save the date: on July 10, I’ll be at my office for an open house.
Many of you call me asking for appointments. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve met with neighborhood leaders to talk about parks, traffic concerns and roads.
Still, not everyone wants to make an appointment. I get that. You want to come in and chat with your councilmember.
I’ll be here at the office (7575 E Speedway) between 9 am and 1 pm to chat with you about anything that you can think of. I’m limiting it to 15 minutes for each person so I can get to everyone.
I hope to see all of you here.
I wrote about I-11 last week, and I got some strong supportive comments from many of you. I’d like to let you know that my colleagues and I passed a resolution opposing the route that will be part of the public comment on the proposal.