Urban trees

Nature’s AC

Those two weeks in June when we hit record high temperatures, were you feeling. “Hot Hot Hot” as Buster Poindexter sings? Walking around our local neighborhoods during that scorching month, I notice an odd phenomenon.

Some streets are shady and cool, but others were as exposed and baking as Death Valley. What gives? Why are some yards full of healthy trees while others on the same block practically denuded of any plant life?

I started to think about those inside their homes cocooned in their air-conditioned world, oblivious to what those passing by their homes were dealing with on the naked sidewalks. I looked at their dark, asphalt shingle roofs absorbing all the rays of the sun with no trees or shrubs to filter and buffer the home. I bet they are not looking forward to receiving their next energy bill!

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A few years ago  I attended the “Green Matters” symposium at Brookside
Gardens in Wheaton, MD, homeowners and professional landscapers
gathered to learn all about trees and their use in our lives and
landscape. “Urban Re-Leaf” was the official name of the program and it
centered greatly on trees in urban settings. Lest you be laboring under
the mistaken assumption that you live in the suburbs, think again.
In-fill development, disturbed soils, air pollution, surface
compaction, etc. are stressing your trees and the tree canopy, just as
they are in the inner city.

The day started off with an inspirational talk by famed photographer,
James Balog. He featured images from his book Tree: A New Vision of the
American Forest. Balog is passionate about nature and not separating
ourselves from the real world by getting caught up in artificial media
and pastimes.

photo by Eric Bond
rgbtree.jpg“DC’s trees filter out 540 tons of harmful air pollutants per year,”
according to Mark Buscaino, executive director of Casey Trees Endowment
Fund. Mark also told us, “DC’s trees also give us $2.6 million in annual
air conditioning savings.” Trees provide stormwater mitigation. They
also offer direct economic and quality of life benefits. For instance,
one study showed that urban streets with full tree canopies had more
pedestrians. Trees pull people outdoors and subliminally encourage
neighborhood interaction, which in turn lessens the local crime rate.

“Size does matter,” said Mark. “The bigger the tree, the more the
leaves and the more benefits we get out of it.” Removing just one large
tree has a serious effect on your neighbors’ health and on the adjacent
property values. “What you do impacts everyone,” Mark explained.
“Through street trees, in-fill urban parks, and trees on your own
property, you must have interaction with nature everyday” Mark noted.

One of the best sessions of the day was “Green Infrastructure
Planning.” Speaker CJ Lammers, a supervisor in the Environmental
Planning Section of MNCPPC, said it is imperative that we “plan to
ensure nature does not go someplace else.” Her wise advice to citizen
activists was to not waste your energy and efforts fighting to stop
development. It is coming no matter what as we are a growing county and
our population will only be increasing. You won’t win that battle.

Instead, she advised us to fight to shape the development. “Be sure to
talk to the planners early in the process,” encouraged CJ. She gave a
great example of a community inside the beltway in Prince George‘s
County that her department worked with the nearby residents and
developer to build compromise and save two important river watershed
areas on the property.

Alice Ewen Walker, executive director of the Alliance for Community
Trees (ACT), discussed ways to get grass-roots community involvement by
local volunteers in tree planting and maintenance programs. She believe
in getting folks involved and giving the real responsibility for their
neighborhood trees, not just token one-day tasks.

Paul Meyer from the Morris Arboretum discussed new and underutilized
tree species for stressful sites such as those found in many urban
settings. His recommendations were for under-utilized trees that can
take the urban heat, pollution, and foot traffic. Among his top choices
are: Oriental and American planetree, Lacebark pine, Eastern red cedar,
Japanese camellia, Northern bayberry, and Ginkgo biloba. I hope you
will consider planting one or more of these trees and looking at a
lower AC bill next summer.

Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a
long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. She has been a Weed Warrior for
four years and is constantly battling Garlic Mustard in local parks.
Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be
reached at www.washingtongardener.com and welcomes your gardening


About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.

2 Comments on "Urban trees"

  1. Steve Davies | August 24, 2010 at 10:36 pm |

    I thought I posted this comment already, but lemme try again:
    Kathy Jentz quotes Mark Buscaino, executive director of Casey Trees Endowment Fund, as saying that “DC’s trees also give us $26 million in annual air conditioning savings.”
    However, the Casey web site says this: “The shade trees of DC save us more than $2.6 million in air conditioning costs per year.”
    One of those figures is wrong. Either the column is overstating the savings by a factor of 10, or Casey is understating it by a factor of 10.

  2. Casey Trees has confirmed that the correct figure is $2.6 million, not $26 million.
    So, using Census Bureau figures —
    That works out to a little more than 4 cents/year for each resident of D.C.; or
    about 9.1 cents per housing unit per year; or
    less than a penny per house per month.
    Doesn’t seem worth it to me.

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