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The Value of Trees in the Urban Landscape

Updated on October 16, 2014
Crabapple tree
Crabapple tree | Source

The Value of Trees in the Urban Landscape

Everyone "knows" that trees are good for the environment, but recent studies put a startling price tag on the value of trees - how much they save in energy costs and more.  Arborists and researchers have been able to put a price tag on the value of a tree. One shade tree planted on the west side of a building in a city environment gobbles up harmful airborne particles while reducing energy expenditure. In fact, trees in the urban environment are so valuable that they are worth approximately double their value. A fast-growing shade tree quickly recoups its planting and care costs and adds beauty to the urban environment.

Cleveland pear - a good urban tree
Cleveland pear - a good urban tree | Source

Chicago: Shade Trees Improve Air Quality

An article in the Winter 2011 edition of The Wilson Quarterly entitled "What Is a Tree Worth?" examined studies conducted in several major urban areas and the economic impact of planting more trees in urban areas. The Chicago study cited in the article is particularly fascinating. According to the data, trees planted throughout Chicago:

  • Removed 17 tons of carbon monoxide, 93 tons of sulfur dioxide, 98 tons of nitrous dioxide, 210 tons of ozone and 234 tons of particulate matter - in one year
  • Improved air quality by as much as 15%, particularly a mature tree

The study also indicated that shade trees such as the London plane and oak trees could significantly improve air quality and reduce energy expenditure. If planted along the west side of a building or an apartment building, such mature trees shaded the building with their green canopy to such an extend that air conditioning and energy use declined significantly.


New York City: Shade Trees Provide $100 Million in Net Benefits

Other major cities increased their tree planting efforts and using techniques similar to those developed in Chicago to study the economic and environmental benefits of planting trees. Another study, this one conducted in New York City and also cited in The Wilson Quarterly article, proved that New York City's street trees delivered about $209 in benefits per tree per year, for a whopping total of $122 million in benefits. Subtracting the cost of yearly maintenance, care and replacement, that's about $100 million in net benefits - by growing more trees along the city's bustling streets and planting a green oasis in unused lots, alleys, and other spaces within the city limits.

Minneopolis Increases Property Values by Planting Trees

According to a presentation posted to the iTree site, Minneapolis increased its property values for homeowners once it added trees to the landscape. Using the iTree software, the city of Minneapolis calculated that not only had saved approximately $6.8 million in energy expenditure by planting trees, but they had increased property values by $7.1 million.  Trees not only improve the environment, they add such beauty to the neighborhood that they increase property values!

Shade Trees for City Landscapes

Given the data, what trees are best for the urban landscape? The answer of course depends upon the gardening zone and area where the trees are to be planted. Fast-growing shade trees offer the most benefits since their quick growth means rapid return on investment for city planners.  London plane trees are often cited in the research as beneficial, as are oaks of all types. Most city planners avoid trees such as maples because the roots spread out rather than sink down, disturbing sidewalks and leading to costly repairs.  Oaks set down long, deep roots, which unless they hit a sewer or water pipe typically do not disrupt city streets, sidewalks or infrastructure. Other popular city trees include the ginko and the ornamental pear.  Such trees are not without problems, however. Many do not live as long as the oak and other major shade trees and must be replaced more frequently, which adds to their costs.  They provide such beauty in the spring, however, that ornamental pear trees continue to grace Main Street in towns throughout the nation.

Actual Value of a Tree

The Maryland Department of Forestry's website breaks down the value of one shade tree as follows:

  • Reduces erosion control costs by $75
  • Reduces air conditioning costs by $73
  • Reduces pollution costs by $50
  • Wildlife habitat estimated value, $75

Like the data cited in other cities, Maryland's website reports that homeowners see an increase in property values thanks to trees. "The value of a lot with trees averages 5-7% higher than a lot without trees. The increase in value can be as much as 20%, and lots with trees often sell faster than lots without them."

Modern Science Proves the Value of Trees

A major research tool used to determine the value of trees is the iTree software.  It's a peer-reviewed, USDA Forest Service tool that analyzes the benefits of community forests (urban landscaping projects). iTree is in the public domain and provided at no charge from the website.

City planners throughout the USA and beyond are now evaluating the urban landscape and seeking to add more trees. Oaks, London Plane trees, and fast growing shade trees not only add beauty to the urban landscape, they provide a buffer against environmental hazards. Trees shrub tons of harmful gases and particles from cities, improving urban air quality. Their beautiful, graceful forms add value to the city streets and increase property values. When planted on the west side of buildings, data shows that they reduce the building's energy consumption noticeably, saving both money and fuel use.

While it seems almost sacrilegious to place a price tag on a decades-old shade tree, cities facing budget cuts must demonstrate fiscal responsibility and prove to voters that every penny they spend on projects is worthwhile. Using software such as iTree and other tools, researchers have been able to prove what most people feel; that trees provide many benefits. Adding a tree to your yard makes it look pretty, but it also improves air quality, prevents water runoff, saves energy, and increases your property values. Perhaps no other plant offers so many benefits so generously. Such findings as these should encourage more trees in urban, suburban, and rural areas nationwide.


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    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Ms. Grunert,

      My Grandmother used to quote that one tree would add $1000 in value to a home. This was decades ago. Perhaps it is still true?

      Trees are an investment in your home and your community.

      One community I lived in would have the trees in the right of way done annually. They felt this saved in pick up time by the Public Works crew but it also helped the health not to mention the appearance of the tree.

      I am saddened when I see tree cut for the sake of lines. I wish there was a better way.

      A tree is precious. Planting a tree is a true sign of optimism because you may not enjoy it you may be planting it for the next person to enjoy.