The Real Urban Forest — Economic, Environmental, and Social Benefits of Trees in the City

Pop quiz. What’s more important to a community’s quality of life — the built infrastructure of buildings and streets, or the green infrastructure of trees, shrubs, and plants? You could argue it either way, but there’s no denying the role trees in particular play in a city. From softening the aesthetics of development to cooling streets and buildings to filtering air pollution, trees make everything better. Let’s dive into the economic, environmental, and social benefits of trees in the city.


Economic Benefits of Trees

While homeowners are lucky to own their own trees in a city like San Francisco, we all benefit from these green giants. And no matter who owns them, trees have a huge economic return. A few key statistics for private and public trees:

  • Trees planted on the west side of a home will offer a 3% savings on energy in five years, and close to 12% savings in another ten years.
  • Shoppers in well-landscaped business districts are willing to spend more on parking and 12% more on goods and services.
  • Landscaping, particularly with trees, can boost property values by up to 20%. Healthy, mature trees add an average of 10% to property values.
  • Trees around buildings can reduce air conditioning costs by 30%, while saving 20-50% percent in heating costs.

Environmental & Social Benefits of Trees

In addition to their economic value and aesthetics, trees are (obviously) good for the environment.

  • Trees reduce air pollution, absorbing pollutants like ozone and filtering particulates including dust, smoke, and pollen.
  • Trees intercept rain and storm water runoff for improved water quality.
  • Their root systems support soil, which can help stabilize hilly areas.
  • Their canopies and trunks provide habitat for wildlife, even in urban areas.
  • Visual exposure to trees can help reduce blood pressure and muscle tension, while the shade they offer creates spaces for people to gather and interact.

Trees in San Francisco

In San Francisco, there are more than 124,000 street trees in the city’s care. Before Proposition E passed in 2016, launching the maintenance program known as StreetTreeSF, property owners were responsible for the care and maintenance of these trees. It was an unpopular rule that forced property owners to pay for tree maintenance and opened them to potential liability if tree roots cracked sidewalks. The 2016 vote mean San Francisco’s urban forest would get the care and maintenance it needs to thrive — something that benefits residents too.

The goal of the Urban Forest Plan in San Francisco is to plant 50,000 trees over the next 20 years, which is an average of 2,500 new trees annually. More trees mean more benefits for residents and visitors alike. If you’re hoping to be the former, or you’re looking to sell in the city, I can help.

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