When we hear the words ‘town’ and ‘city’, we often visualise crowded, busy and grey urban landscapes covered in a sea of tarmac and concrete. Unless you have a large garden or visit a park, quite often there is very little connection to nature in an urban environment. And with 80% of the UK population now living in towns and cities, this is a real problem. Not only do humans benefit from being closer to nature – the future of our environment depends on it.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. At Trees for Streets, we’re on a mission to make our streets greener by planting 250,000 trees over the next ten years. In this blog post, we’ll look at why it is so important to start greening the grey.
Trees enhance our health and wellbeing
Having more trees on our streets makes our towns and cities more liveable and improves the well-being of residents. Studies show that being around them boosts our happiness and reduces our stress levels by actively reducing our blood pressure. According to one study, there’s even less chance of being prescribed antidepressants.
Tree-lined streets encourage people to go outdoors and exercise.
The positive impact that this has on their physical health could be life-changing, not to mention the benefits that being active has on mental health.
Being outdoors also provides opportunities to socialise and meet new people, creating a sense of belonging in the community and tackling the loneliness that many people experience.
Strategically placed trees on a street enable more people to get out by helping to reduce air pollution, which is linked to 40,000 deaths each year.
Trees are our allies in fighting climate change
The climate emergency is progressing faster than ever. To help reach the UK government’s 2050 target to become carbon net-zero – removing as much carbon as we’re producing – we need more trees. Just one street tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in one year while releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere.
And that’s not the only benefit they have on our environment.
The shade provided by trees has been shown to keep urban streets cool in summer, a fact that will become even more important as our climate heats up.
This natural cooling means that air conditioning costs can be reduced, thereby saving even more energy.
And as heavy periods of rainfall are predicted, the expansive root systems of trees can store water and bring stability to town infrastructure.
Trees make our roads safer
Unfortunately, it’s a fact that living in an urban area increases the risk of road traffic accidents. One of the amazing things about trees is that their presence can actually reduce the number of car collisions. Studies show that people drive more slowly when trees are lining a street, possibly because they create a tunnel-like effect that alters our perception of how wide the road is.
There are psychological reasons too – trees indicate that an area might be residential and therefore there could be a risk of pedestrians crossing or children playing. The trees themselves can provide a safety barrier between people on pavements and road traffic. Simply being around trees can make us calmer, and this impacts how we drive.
They improve our local economy
Planting more trees isn’t just a positive choice for the environment, it has a positive economic benefit too.
Research has shown that shoppers will spend 12% more in areas that have large, well-cared-for trees. They’re even willing to pay more for a landscaped car park.
Crime levels go down in leafy streets too, by as much as 14%.
Bringing all these factors together, researchers at the placed-based Climate Action Network at Queen’s University Belfast estimate that the economic benefit of planting a single tree ranges from £1,200 to £8,000 over fifty years.
Leafy green streets are more desirable, and it’s been well reported that house prices are higher in these areas.
In a time when budgets are tight, there is a strong argument for planting more trees!
Trees really are urban heroes; not only are they our most powerful weapon against climate change, but they also make our lives happier, healthier, and make our town centres more profitable.