Alliance for Community Trees News

Urban-Forestry Decision Making And Public Health Benefits

By Conni Kunzler | March 20, 2017

Source: Geoffrey H. Donovan, “Including public-health benefits of trees in urban-forestry decision making,” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening

Portland, OR (February 9, 2017) – Research demonstrating the biophysical benefits of urban trees is often used to justify investments in urban forestry. Far less emphasis, however, is placed on the non-bio-physical benefits such as improvements in public health.

Indeed, the public-health benefits of trees may be significantly larger than the biophysical benefits, and, therefore, failure to account for the public-health benefits of trees may lead to underinvestment in urban forestry. In addition, the distribution of trees that maximizes bio-physical benefits may not maximize public-health benefits.

In a published research article, the researcher suggests that in focusing on the biophysical benefits of trees, urban foresters may be failing to account for important non-biophysical benefits such as reduced crime and, in particular, improved public health. Not giving adequate weight to these social benefits of trees may not only underestimate the total value of trees, it may also lead to inefficiently designed urban-forestry programs.

Considering the public-health benefits of trees may also influence the optimal location for tree planting and retention. Specifically, planting trees in residential areas with high air pollution and in public spaces, parks and public rights of way, for example, will likely generate significant public-health benefits.

The research suggests that trees in public right of way, close to homes, in areas with high air pollution, and in particular, parks and other greenspace likely produce the greatest public-health benefits. In contrast, trees covering impervious surfaces have the greatest impact on storm-water management, and trees close to houses have the greatest impact on summertime cooling costs.

The paper concludes that failing to consider the public-health benefits of urban trees will likely result in an inefficiently low level of investment in urban forestry. Urban forester may wish to engage with the public-health community to help redress this underinvestment.


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