Published in the Toronto Star – June 10, 2017
Have you noticed? We are not respectful of our trees. I believe this is because they don’t advertise well. When a storm moves through town we are busy watching TV while our street trees are taking it on the chin. Now that we know that they communicate with one another (see column ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ https://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2017/04/15/highlights-of-the-secret-life-of-trees.html) we can imagine the conversation during a wind storm. “Harvey, have a look in their living room window right now. They are watching the Weather Channel while we drop limbs on the sidewalk!”
Indeed, trees receive a lot of negative press whenever there is an ice or wind storm. Fallen trees and large limbs are a risk, so why not just cut them all down? You KNOW that someone is thinking that. Uggh.
Advocates for trees have a hard time in the city of Toronto.
Toronto’s Oldest Tree
Take the oldest tree in the 416 for example. My friend and tree advocate Edith George has been working with a group of volunteers to have the 350 year old red oak designated a heritage tree since 1998. Imagine what the real estate around Etobicoke looked like in 1667 when this tree was born. There was an ‘Indian trail’ that ran alongside the tree that lead to Lake Simcoe. The tree bears witness to a lot of our history.
According to George, “A document has been at Toronto City Hall since July 4, 2007 to have this tree designated as Toronto’s first heritage tree. In 2015, Megan Trush, a representative of the Mayor’s office said that the paperwork was ‘good to go’ for debate at Council.” So far, nothing.
Like I said, trees don’t advertise very well.
According to the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association, the gardening experience grows so much more than plants. In a recent CHTA newsletter, Karen York states that gardening grows, “self-esteem, optimism, camaraderie, creativity, satisfaction, peace, a sense of purpose and control, and general well being. Underlying all is that important sixth sense, the active mind.”
York quotes the late horticulturalist Henry Kock from the University of Guelph, who called the ‘sixth sense’ “intellectual stimulation, which is so vital to our mental health in both the short and long term.” In Henry’s world, nothing loomed larger or more impactful on the sixth sense than trees.
Our urban trees, I submit, should be valued like any other urban infrastructure. Storm water sewers, clean water, fire hydrants, fire departments, police services and schools, to name a few, would be in good company with trees. Living in the city without trees would be paramount to living in a concrete desert. I say, lets put them on the table when we talk about infrastructure.
Value of Trees
If you are still not convinced of the value of trees, consider the monetary cost of not having them. According to a recent press release from Davey Tree, there are at least four ways that trees ‘mean money’:
- Trees increase property values. A tree increases a homes value by more than $7,000. That may not sound like much if your fully detached abode is worth a couple million, but this is an American # so you would be within your rights to add some value to it.
- Trees reduce energy bills. Strategically placed trees can save up to 56 percent on annual air-conditioning costs. Good to know as we push up against the summer weather. Someone be sure to tell the provincial government about this one.
Planted on the west side of your home evergreen trees can reduce the cooling impact of westerly winds during winter, saving heating costs.
- Trees Sell homes. The presence of street trees reduces time on the market by an average of 1.7 days. Ok, in this market of high turnover house sales you may not be impressed. But I think you get the point.
- Trees give back. Over a span of 50 years, one tree produces $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion. (all $ American). Total: $162, 000 value. Not a bad net worth for a 50 year old. And the benefits just continue to accrue as the tree ages.
According to the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition it would cost $14.2 billion (Canadian) to replace the 34 million trees in the GTA. As Michelle Sawka, project manger of the coalition says, “We have to convince people that nature is an asset and that it provides services. We need to integrate the natural environment into our cities and manage it the same way as we manage our roads and pipes.” Sawka is talking about trees.
And finally in other news: Gardening has made it on to the ParticipACTION 150 play list. It is #51 on the list. Remember the benefits of horticulture that Karen York talked about at the top of this story? Self-esteem, optimism, peace…. I wonder if you can get the same results from doing sit ups and squats?