The value of urban trees is pretty clear to anyone who has finally reached a soothing green canopy after trudging down a hot city street, and now studies are emerging that put a dollar sign on trees in urban neighbohoods. In that regard, the world of urban forestry is right in step with Mark Tercek of the Nature Conservancy, who used his keynote speech at last week's SXSW-eco conference to make the point that it's time to focus on the economic value of nature conservation. To cite one recent example reported in The Atlantic, the U.S. Forest Service has been surveying the impact of street trees on home sales and rentals in Portland, Oregon, with positive results.
Trees Add Value to Rentals, More for Sales
Atlantic writer Eric Jaffe picked out some interesting details in the new study, which was conducted by the Forest Service and co-authored with the National Institute of Standards and Technologies. With the help of tree data from Google Earth, the researchers found that trees on or near a property increased the rent of a property by a modest amount, about $5.00 to $21.00 monthly (the study controlled for other factors including, most significantly, neighborhood desirability). The real difference was in sales value. The study found that trees in front of a property increased its value by up to $7,000. Jaffe notes that street trees can also significantly boost the effect of other important property value factors such as walkability.
Public Trees, Private Trees
Aside from their benefits to private property owners, urban trees also have a positive impact on community finances. A number of studies have recently factored in stormwater control, air pollution reduction, summer cooling effects to determine that cities derive more financial benefits from trees than they spend on planting and maintenance.
More Efficient Tree Management
One important tool for urban forestry is i-Tree, the same software used by the U.S Forest Service. A new user-friendly version came out last year that can be used by educators, community groups, landscapers, and many other stakeholders in addition to private property owners and professional urban planners. In large cities where thousands of trees need to be monitored and maintained, good software helps cities save money by enabling tree managers to preserve trees more efficiently, while cutting down on expenses, energy, and air pollution from unnecessary trips.
Harvesting Urban Trees for Fun and Profit
A well managed urban forest can also provide cities with opportunities to recover value from damaged, dead or dying trees. There's mulch and compost, of course, and the potential for sales to biorefineries that can process woody biomass. Urban hardwoods can be especially valuable for high end uses such as furniture and sculpture.
Image Credit: Urban trees by metaphoricalplatypus.com on flickr.com.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.