Nature Connection: The Benefits of Urban Forestry
People who regularly connect with nature by getting outside experience lower levels of hopelessness, depression, and anxiety. Even in a big city there are ways to connect with nature. You don’t have to go out to the country to improve your mood and feel better. Green spaces have been an important part of cities around the world for a long time, but we’re just now starting to realize how valuable the impact of urban forests is on our communities. Urban forestry doesn’t just have positive mental health impacts, it also has important environmental effects. Urban forestry is important for carbon sequestration, mitigating urban heat island risks, air quality improvement, and stormwater management.
What does this mean for community development? It means that urban forestry needs to be an important part of community planning and development for the future.
Benefits of Urban Forestry
Urban forests have a wide variety of positive benefits across all parts of our communities. TreeCanada.ca lists the many benefits of trees, including the way they improve public health and encourage social connections. Trees have economic impacts; they improve property values, make public perceptions of businesses more positive, make cities more attractive to visitors, and provide spaces for recreation. Environmentally, urban forests help support native flora and fauna and increase biodiversity. The trees sequester carbon, filter the air, improve water filtration, store water, and reduce rainwater runoff.
Alain Paquette, a biology professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal, says that “There are more and more studies today showing a direct link between the canopy — the quantity of trees — and the physical and mental health of human beings, and also human development. Studies (show that) things like satisfaction, happiness, academic success, etc. are linked to the presence and quantity of trees.”
Winnipeg’s Million Tree Challenge
On September 19, 2019, Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg, issued a challenge to residents asking them to commit to planting a minimum of 1 million trees over 20 years. Winnipeg’s tree canopy has long been a point of pride for the city, with the largest population of elms in North America. But, the city’s existing urban trees are facing threats from emerald ash borer beetles, Dutch elm disease, and the huge “Snowtober” storm that hit the city in October of 2019. The storm damaged up to 10% of the city’s existing tree canopy.
Bowman’s goal aligns with the projected growth of the city: the final goal of reaching one million trees planted coincides with the time the city is projected to hit 1 million in population. The challenge is directed at individuals, non-profits, and private businesses. The project kicked off with a $1 million donation from CN Rail, followed by a $250,000 donation from Telpay later in 2019.
Not only does this initiative drive positive environmental change in the city, it also brings citizens together socially. It gives them something to be proud of together, and to connect with each other over.
Is Urban Forestry Right for My City?
While urban forestry is an important goal to work towards, it doesn’t have to be the starting point. Smaller municipalities can start with smaller green goals. Other plants help make our cities greener and more attractive as well. Things like green roofs, urban gardening, permeable paving, and maintenance of existing trees are all positive contributors.
Community development that includes a focus on green spaces or urban forests will reap the benefits of having healthier neighbourhoods with stronger social connections, higher property values, and stronger economies.
Bardekjian, A. (2018). Compendium of best urban forest management practices. Second Edition. Originally commissioned to Tree Canada by Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved from: https://treecanada.ca/resources/canadian-urban-forest-compendium/