April 10, 2024

Trees As City Assets

As Arbor Day approaches on April 26, it’s a good time to think about the value of trees. A community's green space is an important indicator of many things, including a city's overall quality of life. Green infrastructure also affects a lot more than aesthetics.

The Kentucky Division of Forestry has new staff members eager to work with cities and offers several new grants, assessments, and opportunities to help cities include trees as part of infrastructure planning.

Trees make our cities walkable, livable, breathable, and more appealing to potential businesses and residents. Research shows that green spaces increase economic development opportunities and property values. According to the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington, urban forests are a significant and increasingly valuable asset. Eighty-six percent of real estate appraisers surveyed agreed that landscaping added to the dollar value of commercial real estate, and 92 percent agreed it added to sales appeal. Another study that looked at 30 variables of commercial occupancy rates suggested that landscape amenities were more important than direct access to arterial routes.

In terms of residential property values, healthy trees also influence house prices. Trees increase home values from four to six percent on average. For instance, a 25-foot tree can reduce annual heating and cooling costs by eight to 12 percent, and a mature tree canopy reduces air temperature by up to 10 degrees, lowering the internal temperatures of nearby structures.

As you may recall from middle school biology class, trees release oxygen. The average person consumes about 386 pounds of oxygen per year. A healthy 32-foot tree can produce up to 260 pounds of oxygen annually, so two trees can supply the oxygen needed for a person for a year! A mature tree absorbs small particles and gases in air pollution. And possibly most importantly, tree canopies absorb rain, reducing the amount of water that will fall on the pavement and wind up in the stormwater drainage system.

The Arbor Day Foundation currently recognizes 33 Kentucky cities as a Tree City USA®. The designation provides communities with a four-step framework to maintain and grow their tree cover.

Several cities in Kentucky employ certified arborists. Many more work with arborists on a contractual basis. Other cities currently have tree boards. Tree boards represent the trees and the people. That is a good place to start if your city wants to implement a strategic, well-thought-out approach to urban forestry. KLC Municipal Law can help with the establishment of such a board.

The Arbor Day Foundation has helpful information on forming a tree board as well as a Handbook for Tree Board Members. For sample ordinances regarding tree boards, contact KLC Municipal Law, one of the Tree City USA® cities, or the Kentucky Division of Forestry. If you already have or choose to start a tree board, it is important to make sure a portion of the board is composed of people with expertise in trees and plants, not just an interest in them. While good planning is an asset, poor planning is costly and can make matters much worse in terms of tree placements, invasive species, root issues, and even public safety. Protecting trees does not have to be prohibitive, but cities need to consider the implications of new developments, water lines, and heritage trees as they look at growth and redevelopment projects.

Cities are encouraged to reach out to the Kentucky Division of Forestry for assistance. 

For more information, contact: 

Chris Wiedamann 
Urban and Community Forestry Program Coordinator
ISA Certified Arborist IN-3532A
ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified
Kentucky Division of Forestry
502.782.3932 or 502.803.8588

John S. Baggett (Jack)
Urban and Community Forestry Partnership Coordinator
ISA Certified Arborist (Municipal Specialist) MA-0136-AM
ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified
Kentucky Division of Forestry