Trees, Heat, and the Urban Canopy

It’s hot outside and everyday when I call fire officials  — I cover wildfires among other things for work — they tell me it’s going to stay hot. And while the record breaking heat can be a pain, it also emphasizes the massive benefit of city trees. As I have mentioned in previous posts, city trees significantly cut down on energy and irrigation costs. They also cut down on crime and offer free food.

Pittsburgh apparently understands those benefits better than most cities. This recent Post-Gazette story describes the city’s efforts to enrich the urban tree canopy in order to reap more economic and environmental benefits:

The master plan reports the city has more than 2.5 million trees that sequester 13,900 tons of carbon dioxide a year, saved residents $3 million in energy bills last year and remove 519 tons of pollution at a savings of $3.6 million a year. Street trees alone diverted 41.8 million gallons of stormwater last year.

The plan calls for a 20 percent increase in the size of Pittsburgh’s tree canopy over the next 20 years. That’s no small task considering the city already has 2.5 million trees.

Interestingly, the article notes that many of Pittsburgh’s trees are located in more affluent neighborhoods. Though Provo is much smaller than Pittsburgh, I’d argue that something similar is true across Utah and Salt Lake Counties. That suggests that richer people can afford to plant and tend trees, but it may also indicate that trees are a way to increase individual and neighborhood-wide property values.

Unfortunately, trees in northern Utah will almost certainly need more irrigation than trees in Pittsburgh. Lately, I’ve also seen quite a few young trees that have died from apparent lack of water. But in many cases property owners are irrigating anyway to maintain lawns. And in any case, the benefits trees have on cities are so significant that, like Pittsburgh, Provo also could benefit from an overt effort to increase it’s urban canopy.

Some parts of Provo are filled with trees, but like Pittsburgh, Provo could use an overall increase in it’s urban canopy.

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