By Tony Zeli
If you ask any given city manager, what is the value of our city’s urban trees, the answer you might receive goes something like: If we had to replace all our City trees, it would cost X million dollars. Their budgetary singlemindedness might be excusable – it is what they do, after all. But our hypothetical city manager isn’t considering the complete value of our trees, are they?
First, there are the climate impacts. Trees reduce air pollution, store carbon, save energy by shading and cooling buildings, and provide habitat and food for wildlife. But further, trees increase property values and have other positive economic impacts one might not at first expect.
Economic Impact of Urban Trees
According to a 2010 study in Portland, Oregon, street trees add $8,870 to the sales price of a home. And if you apply the average tree effect to all houses in the other Portland, then it would yield a total value increase of $1.35 billion. Imagine, any hypothetical city manager might like to hear that. This increased valuation from trees could potentially yield increased annual property tax revenues of $15.3 million.
Outside of the residential impact, other studies have looked at small city retail, inner-city business districts, and neighborhoods around strip malls. They have found that shoppers don’t just like shopping in the shade or at a beautiful spot. They may actually be willing to pay more for goods and services in business settings that contain high quality trees and green landscapes. So, trees are literally good for business.
By Baltimore’s Calculation
Given the growing evidence of their value beyond lumber and paper products, some cities are attempting to take a more complete accounting of their urban trees. In fact, the City of Baltimore calculates the value of their trees by considering the services they provide to residents. Specifically, trees clean the air, improve public health, and increase property values.
What does that add up to? Well it turns out, an urban tree provides $57,000 in annual economic and environmental benefits to the people of Baltimore. A quick look at Baltimore forestry department’s website and you can see for yourself that trees provide:
- $3.3 million a year in energy savings by shading buildings from the summer sun and blocking winter winds
- $10.7 million a year storing 527 tons of carbon
- $3.8 million a year by removing 700 metric tons of air pollution (carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, etc.)
The City of Portland does not calculate such information. And so, some would argue that city leaders, local developers, and others are making decisions impacting our urban trees without a complete picture of their value.
When Will We Know the Value of a Tree
Portland Protectors’ Avery Yale Kamila said that their group “recognizes the high value that all trees provide,” and they want to see legislation passed to protect urban trees. For Kamila’s group, Portland’s recently passed heritage tree ordinance (that protects large urban trees in historic districts) does not go far enough. Among other concerns, it was a missed opportunity to require the city to calculate the value of Portland’s urban trees.
Of course, looking only at economic value, we miss a great deal of the totality of our urban trees. After all, beauty and inspiration are never completely quantifiable. But when we must make an economic argument, it would be nice if we could properly valuate our precious resource.
Tony Zeli is publisher and editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org