Trees provide oxygen and shade to humanity, but there are a range of social, communal and environmental benefits that can be linked to trees.
Green spaces, with trees, can play an important part in tackling a range of social and health problems.
There is a strong tie between people and trees, which is reflected by the fact that we feel serene and peaceful when in a green, leafy environment. Public green spaces draw people for many reasons, to relax, exercise, to find inspiration or to gather with friends or family. Inevitably, interaction occurs between people, whether it is a smile in passing or joining in play, and this strengthens social bonds in the community.
People prefer natural to hardscape settings and studies have shown that the presence, number and location of trees impacted the amount of time that urbanites spend outside. A study in Australia has found that people were more inclined to reach their recommended daily walking levels if they lived near safe, green spaces. Patients in hospitals, where there were views of trees, experienced quicker recovery from surgery and also made fewer requests for pain medication.
Even when located on private property, the benefits provided by trees can reach well out into the surrounding community. Trees provide privacy and can enhance views or screen out objectionable views.
Trees can also be associated with a reduction in crime. Dense vegetation may perhaps encourage crime, by offering concealment, but widely spaced, high-branching trees and grassy areas may discourage crime by preserving visibility. Well maintained street and yard trees could also play a role in preventing crime as the area would be seen as controlled and cared for. There is less vandalism, graffiti and littering in green spaces where trees are well maintained, compared to spaces void of trees.
It has been reported that people who live in tree rich areas feel a stronger sense of community and unity than those living in an area with few green spaces. Relations between neighbours are stronger and people feel safer if they like where they live. Trees add to the quality of life by making people feel calmer. The development of social ties in urban housing, to permit community cohesion, is very important. The presence of well managed amenity trees encourages more interaction between people and can build neighbourhood and civic pride.
Holistic environmental benefits of trees
Trees act as a filter for polluted air and catch dust and pollutants on its leaves, which can reduce the conditions that cause asthma. Some other health benefits include solar radiation screening, a reduction in smog formation and carbon sequestration – trees reduce the effect of greenhouse gasses and absorb carbon dioxide.
In addition, street and city trees often serve several architectural and engineering functions. Effective tree placement softens the harshening effects of parking lots, wide streets and sometimes necessary high blank walls. Glare and reflection is reduced while natural elements and wildlife habitats are brought into the urban area. Trees absorb and deflect noise from busy streets and their shade increase the life of road surfaces.
One of the most important benefits of trees is the conservation of energy in and around our homes. Deciduous trees planted in close proximity to buildings provide shade in summer, naturally cooling rooms. During winter, when the trees are bare, sunlight finds its way into the building creating warmth. Trees are natural air-conditioning units.
By acting as natural barriers, trees can also reduce groundwater run-off, prevent erosion and improve water quality.