The Why of Urban Forestry

The Why of Urban Forestry
By Bill Hahn, AIB Judge

Biophilia, meaning the love of nature, perhaps an unfamiliar term to many of us, is the urge of humans to affiliate with other living things. Although many of us know this concept intuitively, it can take on many facets and become difficult to wrap one’s mind around.

The core notion of biophilia is an experience of love or attraction to living biological systems. In addition, there’s the biophilia hypothesis, first introduced by the celebrated biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984. The hypothesis holds that human beings, having spent much of their evolutionary development as a species in nature, are inherently drawn to natural settings. For those who are so inclined, it could be a God thing. Designing a property, neighborhood or city incorporating biophilic aspects essentially means providing space for nature in one or more of its many forms.

Research at the University of Washington and the University of Illinois reveals that incorporating green concepts into cities reduces crime, increases retail sales, boosts real estate values, facilitates child learning and retention levels, promotes a feeling of safety and well-being, fosters economic development and improves quality of life for residents. 

Recognition of the value of trees to our ecosystems and communities is gaining momentum. In fact, trees are now valued as infrastructure, similar to water lines, bridges and storm sewers – known as green infrastructure. Indeed, trees are the only infrastructure that appreciates in value, over time. All other forms of infrastructure depreciate in value the day they are installed. Trees have monetary value and provide environmental services such as storm water detention, energy conservation, climate modification, air and water quality and carbon sequestration, among others. They also create a sense of space for humankind - ceilings and walls we can relate to, while some provide aesthetic elements such as flowers and fall color, as well as habitat and food for animals. A professional tree inventory conducted in 1996 valued Akron’s urban forest (street trees) at 39 million. (60M +/- today)

We’re all biophiliacs to some degree, and the benefits for urban trees are recognized and considerable. Even though the urban environment is not a natural setting for trees as would be a woodland setting, the investment is worth the effort, regardless of a somewhat shortened lifespan. Choosing the right tree for the right space at the right time, can provide a service life exceeding 100 years for some species, even in urban areas.

So, in summary, we all desire natural environments, color trees provide, cool shade on a hot summer day, clean air and water, low crime rates, green retail space, appreciating real estate, and the endorphin rush as beauty washes over us. Urban forestry allows us to enjoy a bit of the natural within the midst of the built environment. The benefits of urban trees contribute to a better sense of community and pride of place. Biophilia – for the love of nature, realizing the restorative aspects of seeing and doing green.

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