Source: The Nature Conservancy, “Investing in City Trees Can Help Save Lives and Millions of Dollars in Health Expenditures,” News Release; “Cities Should Think About Trees As Public Health Infrastructure,” Fast Company; “How Should We Pay for Street Trees?” CityLab
Washington, DC (September 28, 2017) – A new report by The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with Analysis Group and Trust for Public Land, finds that trees and other natural features in cities can help regulate water quality and quantity, reduce harmful air pollutants, and boost local economies. By creating new incentives for investing in urban nature, cities can help address health challenges more effectively, saving lives and potentially millions of dollars to taxpayers.
Despite scientific research that shows that city trees can have a significant impact on public health, reducing cardiac and respiratory diseases intensified by air pollution, as well as alleviating the consequences of extreme summer heat and mental stress, the challenge has been for planners and policy makers to allocate resources effectively to bring these natural benefits to people.
Funding Trees for Health explores how cities can use innovative finance and policy tools to enable tree planting for public health given that urban trees are vital for people’s health.
“American cities currently spend less than a third of a percent of overall municipal budgets to maintain or increase their tree coverage,” said Robert McDonald, The Nature Conservancy lead scientist for Cities and a report author. “Spending just $8 per person could meet the funding gap and allow cities to plant and maintain enough city trees to benefit public health, potentially reducing millions to taxpayers. City trees cannot be viewed as a luxury, but an essential component of a healthy, livable community and a core strategy for improving public health.”
The report focuses on the benefits of trees for public health to provide specific guidance for planners and policy makers. These include linking funding for trees and parks to health goals and objectives, as well as implementing policies to incentivize private tree planting. Additionally, breaking down municipal silos would facilitate collaboration between different departments, such as public health and environmental agencies with city developers and planners. An example would be allowing for codes to set minimum open space or maximum building lot coverage ratios for new developments. Investing time and effort in educating the public about the tangible public health benefits and economic impact of trees would be another key call to action for cities and towns.
“When you consider the benefits that street trees can provide to society, there is a strong business case for increasing investment,” said McDonald. “After analyzing 27 major American cities we found that each one could save at least $25 million annually in pollution-related lost work and healthcare costs just by planting more urban trees and maintaining existing tree coverage.”
According to Planting Healthy Air, a global study released in 2016 by The Nature Conservancy, there is scientific evidence of the benefits of city trees and their cost-effectiveness to reduce urban heat and pollution. City populations grow and are projected to reach 2 of every 3 people on Earth in the coming decades.
To see the full report, an executive summary and additional resources, visit nature.org/trees4health.