The Real Value of a Tree As a Utility

This blog post is reprinted from Landscape Architecture Resource, where it was originally published in January 2009.

Is a street tree a utility? Concern over sustainable design has many developers, designers, and consumers beginning to consider trees as “green utilities.” Advocates of sustainable design are also urging that the integration of other “green utilities” like soil and water be given as much attention in the early phases of design as light poles, power lines, and sewers, and that they be treated as effective elements of our built environment.

Trees are perhaps the most undervalued of the tree-soil-water triumvirate, at least on a construction and new development basis, but they’re an incredibly valuable resource and we don’t have nearly enough of them. You may never have thought too much about trees before, but if you take some time to walk down the street in any ultra-urban area you will see that many trees are either already dead or in serious decline. In some places you won’t see any trees at all. Tree cover in urban areas has declined by 30% in the last 20 years – while urban areas have grown by 20%. The many ways trees contribute to our communities and environment can’t be overstated:

On an environmental and ecological level, trees improve air and water quality and dramatically reduce flooding, erosion and energy use.

On a personal level, healthy trees increase in home and business values, improve psychological health, help make streets safer for vehicles and pedestrians, and reduce crime – among many other wonderful benefits.

Then there’s the dollars and cents of it. Supporting large, healthy trees and tree growth actual saves you money.

Want to find out the economic and ecological benefit of trees near you? Check out this tree benefit calculator from Casey Trees (unfortunately this only works in Internet Explorer). You can also calculate the value of the trees around your home using this tree benefits calculator (works in Firefox)

Up until this point, trees, soil and water have largely been secondary considerations after paving, water, sanitation, hydro and other utilities and traditional elements of urban infrastructure. We now know that trees as “green utilities” are incredibly important and effective components of sustainable design and that they should be prioritized if we are serious about bringing ecosystem services to our communities.

Image: SDOT


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