July 21, 2015

Want a Healthier City? Plant More Trees

Here's a new study I love! Conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, it concludes that urban neighborhoods filled with trees are better for people's health.

An increase of 11 trees per city block was found to be "comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000... or being 1.4 years younger."

The researchers had access to a trove of data about trees in the city of Toronto. They had the health records of more than 30,000 Toronto residents. That information included lots of "official" data -- rates of cancer, diabetes, mental illness, etc. -- as well as residents' perceptions of their own well-being.

Controlling for income, age and education, the research team was able to draw an interesting conclusion: that trees on the street had a clear impact on residents' health. While other trees also had an impact, "we found stronger effects from the trees on the street," a lead researcher said.

We've known for a long time that trees improve urban air quality by pulling ozone, particulates and other pollutants out of the air, into their leaves, and away from our lungs. The researchers suggested other possibilities, too. Simply being amidst greenery could improve mental health, which brings physical benefits. Perhaps people are more inclined to exercise -- to jog, walk, ride a bike -- in more pleasant, green environments.

No Wonder I'm Doing so Well – – I Live in the Washington, DC Forest
A confirmed treehugger, I want to reinforce the findings of this wonderful study. My hometown of Washington, DC is on American Forests' list of the 10 best cities for urban forests. OK, so it comes in 10th.

But on the Urban Fitness Index of America's healthiest cities, Washington ranks number one. A key reason? Its forests.

Digging deeper, I found a survey of our unhealthiest cities conducted by Better Doctor. In that review, about half of the 20 lowest-ranking cities were either in Florida or the American Southwest, where green leafy trees are in short supply. The report noted: “The lower-ranked cities tended to have less parkland, higher obesity rates, and more stringent state requirements for physical education in schools."

Trees and Me
I know that trees -- real trees, not palm trees -- are vital to my well-being. The drive in Arizona from Scottsdale to Sedona is spectacular. I've always enjoyed my visits to Fort Lauderdale and Key West. Truly memorable was a week-long Thich Naht Hahn spiritual retreat in Key West (believe it or not).

But retire to Florida or Arizona? No way. I've often said that if I had to pick a place to live other than Washington, it would be Seattle. I just checked and found that Seattle is #9 -- just ahead of DC -- on the list of best cities for urban forests.

Rehoboth, DE was our family's favorite beach resort near Washington, and we usually rented in the more heavily wooded northern part of town. We didn't care much for Ocean City, MD... partly because there were so few trees there.

In the "urban forest" of Washington, my Palisades neighborhood is surely one of the greenest, leafiest parts of town.

I'm a happy camper. . . except for Washington's summertime heat and humidity. As I get older, the humidity really troubles me.

Maybe I'll work on getting all of my family and friends to join me in moving to Seattle.

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