Despite being the middle of winter, trees have been on the minds of many of late.
The City has set a goal of 40% for our tree canopy by 2020. With the support of TD Green Streets, the City has established an accurate baseline for our tree canopy. It currently stands at 20%. This is a larger gap than we anticipated. However, an aggressive target is indicated.
We know trees provide many services to our community from lowering urban air temperatures and ozone levels to creating safer walking environments by reducing traffic speeds and road rage.
As humans, we are hard-wired to respond positively to trees. The presence of trees have been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve overall emotional and psychological health. In a Chicago study, “girls who lived in apartments with greener, more natural views scored better on tests of self-discipline than those living in more barren and otherwise identical housing”.
In a previous post, I wrote about the connection between the health of the local economy and how attached people feel towards their community. One of the key drivers of attachment is the aesthetics of the community – the natural and created beauty of the place. The urban forest is fundamental to the aesthetics of any community. Plant a tree, grow the economy.
We also know that trees are under stress – from invasive species, like the Emerald Ash Borer which has arrived in Guelph, and climate change. Not all our tree species are equal in being able to cope with a warming environment.
Last week, Thomas Homer-Dixon from the Perimeter Institute urged a room full of municipal leaders to start planting trees, not just any trees but the right ones (those that will adapt more successfully to a warming climate) and to start now.
The City of Guelph’s Urban Forest Management Plan moves forward this spring. As we develop the plan we need to think about canopy coverage and the diversity and resiliency of our urban trees. We need to think about planting trees and maintaining the existing forest – the canopy of a mature tree cannot be replaced for decades. While there are many policies in place to protect existing trees, there will be pressure from new development, especially as we work to accommodate growth within our current city boundaries over the next 20 years. All of this needs to be factored into a plan that will leave a sustainable legacy for future generations.