The Surprising Benefits of Urban Trees
A new study finds that tree cover in urban areas provides more health benefits than open green space.
City governments and urban planners often try to optimize green space, but a focus improving tree cover in urban areas could have health benefits for residents.
The study found that people in urban areas experience both mental and physical health benefits if they have more trees within a walkable distance from their homes. Specifically, adults over 45 years old were less likely to rate their own health as "poor" or "fair," and less likely to suffer psychological distress if the tree canopy in their neighborhood was more than 30 percent.
The study followed 46,000 adults in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, controlling for other possible explanations, including differences in age, sex, income, education, employment status, and relationship status.
The study's author said that while green space has mental health benefits, areas with tree cover provide a greater benefit than wide open spaces.
So why are trees such a critical part of public health? The study contends that benefits include improving air quality and providing shade (which helps reduce city temperatures in warmer months). There are other less obvious benefits--the study suggests that trees provide sensory in dense urban neighborhoods.
There's additional data that supports these findings in the United States. A University of Illinois study found Medicare costs tend to be lower in counties with more forests and shrub-lands than in counties dominated by other types of land cover .