Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trees for A Better Economy

By Alexia Eanes, Operations Manager

As metropolitan areas continue to create places where people want to live, many are asking themselves: what are the selling points that will make someone relocate to their metro? Certainly jobs remain a critical factor, however, quality of life is increasingly important for highly mobile Millennials. We all generally understand the benefits a little greenery can have on a metro's quality of life. Almost everyone can enjoy green space: it allows us to break away from the daily grind of life. It's where people congregate, get healthy, have picnics, and socialize. But what is often overlooked, and arguably taken for granted, are the very things that green space is composed of: Trees. 

Trees are vital to a community’s wellbeing. Beyond beautifying and filtering our air, trees in urban areas have been shown to slow down traffic and strengthen public safety. One other beneficial gain that trees can produce is, surprisingly, increased economic activity. Studies have shown that shoppers respond positively to tree-lined shopping districts. Why? Well, one reason is that shoppers in tree-lined retail districts tend to have higher perceptions of the goods sold in those districts relative to other retail areas. You can just imagine a tree lined street in a quaint area with local boutiques selling artisan goods and clothes. It gives a certain aesthetic people are drawn to, and these areas become a retail focal point for the community and visitors alike. Both groups will go out of their way to get to the retail district and, while there, they spend money. Winter Park, FL, to me, is the quintessential tree lined street town where you want to shop and stay for dinner. While it does have a robust population, people from all over Florida and especially the city of Orlando travel there to experience what it has to offer. This doesn’t come naturally though. Their in-depth, award winning Parks and Recreation Department can be applauded for that. In 2014 the department received the Plant Operations Excellence Award from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agency. Dually, they received the 2014 Achievement in Excellence in Procurement Award, which measures innovation, professionalism, e-procurement productivity, and leadership. The department successfully handles everything from trees on the street to farmers markets, event rentals in the area and much more.

Granted, there’s more to trees than their economic impact. Another benefit that may not be on your mind as an economic developer is the ability of trees to reduce the amount of heat being radiated from your city or town caused by man-made structures (typically referred to as the urban heat island). The temperatures that urban heat islands can generate cause major setbacks including hotter than normal temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, and poor water and air quality. In a place with scorching summer temperatures, the city of Austin’s Community Tree Program is purposefully combatting this issue. The program chooses a neighborhood and has their volunteers plant up to 10 different native species of trees. The City has also partnered with TreeFolks in Central Texas to keep the initiative going. Their goal is to plant 350 15-gallon trees by March 2015. The increased tree canopy results in cooler temperatures (up to 10 degrees in some places) while also providing shade on the ground for people to enjoy. 

Other organizations throughout the nation are performing similar activities to reap the environmental and economic benefits for their own communities: Trees Atlanta, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and TreesCharlotte are just a few of these programs. While these metros are working toward their own goals, there’s no doubt that a little shrubbery can have an impact on their communities. 

Whether it’s boosting the economy, reducing your city’s heat island, or creating a community atmosphere, there’s a general consensus that green space and trees are not only a want but a necessity. There are programs and organizations all over the U.S. that are creating these features to benefit their hometowns. What is your program?