Learning from Canada: Tangible Benefits of Having More Trees and Green Spaces in Cities

EdmontonA recent study published in the Edmonton Journal claims that Edmontonians benefit much from a wealth of trees in their neighborhoods and city streets. In the early 1900s, the city of Edmonton in Canada planted trees on their boulevards to attract newcomers. Today, streets are lined with canopies of trees, and Edmontonians claim that these trees have done them more good than just attracting newcomers.

University of Illinois landscape architecture professor William Sullivan has been studying the impact of trees and green spaces. He writes that “the return on investment of a tree can’t be measured in the way that another 100 parking lot spaces or another building might. And yet we attend to those things and ignore the vegetation at our peril.”

Sullivan adds that other than its positive impact on the environment, having a wealth of trees and green spaces in urban settings have three key benefits to humans.

It Encourages People to Go Out and Walk More

The first benefit that Sullivan names is that trees encourage people to go out and walk more. Studies show that trees and green spaces stimulate positive thoughts and promote a person’s well-being. One manifestation of this is that when there are green and tree-line spaces that people can easily access, people will be compelled to walk more. Walking is a fantastic exercise that comes with a variety of health benefits.

It Helps Increase Local Social Ties

Another key benefit of having trees and green urban landscapes is that it increases local social ties. Since trees entice us to get out walking, it increases our chances of meeting new people.

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Edmonton CityEssentially, if we go out for a walk with a positive attitude towards things, we become friendlier and more open to new friendships. Studies show that having green spaces shared by the community makes people feel safer, thus, making them more trustworthy of other people. Having community gardens, for example, can also promote social interactions, as gardening and landscaping can be social activities.

Reduces Stress and Improves Cognition

It is also proven that people who have a window view of trees are more drawn to go outside than those who live in apartments that do not have a similar view. Studies show that people living in apartments surrounded by trees experience less mental fatigue and have stronger social ties with their neighbors.

Sullivan notes that this experience also helps reduce stress and improve cognition. In the same study, Sullivan says that “when people are in a greener space they begin to calm down.” To test this notion, he observed students in classrooms with views of trees and those with views of buildings or no windows at all. The survey proves that the former did better on cognitive tests and are less stressed than the latter.

Sullivan and many green architects share this notion that having trees is not just a personal and poetic sentiment. It is more of a scientific approach to designing urban landscapes. Having tree-lined streets and green spaces improve the well-being of community residents and at the same time promote sustainability in urban landscapes.

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