We’ve all got our favourite cities in which to live, visit, enjoy and explore. The factors determining which urban environments stir our emotions, make us feel safe, bring out our wild side or just foster a state of calm are many and varied.
The quality of the architecture, design, planning, lighting, colour and cleanliness of a place can all stir the senses, allowing us to put a ‘value’ on our cities in much the same way as we do food, fashion and technology.
The quality, size and design of green spaces also play a big factor. It is no coincidence that Melbourne – last year ranked the World’s Most Liveable City for the sixth year running by The Economist – has a network of some 480 hectares of parks, gardens and open spaces across the city.
For the second time in a row, Tokyo topped Monocle’s most liveable cities index. Despite being a megalopolis, “life in the Japanese capital is a master class in low-rise, leafy, pedestrian-friendly living,” said the editors. Even the relatively unknown city of Fukuoka came in seventh place for its efforts to become “more green and bike-friendly”.
Such plaudits warm the soul of city leaders and residents alike, basking in the knowledge that they are working, playing or living in the very best place on Earth. However, there’s more to the value of so-called urban greenery than beautification to drive up house prices, attract businesses and boost tourism.
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In New York City, the local government department responsible for looking after its parks and squares (NYC Parks) has devised a way to start working out exactly what that value might be – from both an ecological and an economic standpoint.
Charged with making sure people are more aware of the importance of looking after their urban landscape, the department has come up with TreesCount! to map and catalogue every street tree on every block across the city. It is a programme that demands the effort of 2,300 volunteers who have been taught about the trees in their environment – their characteristics, condition, care requirements, measurements – and how they benefit the local community.
Since 2015, the initiative has amassed thousands of data points to form an urban forest registry (available on the New York City Tree Map) of more than 685,000 trees. Each tree has a unique ID number, a colour to indicate its species and, most interestingly, a summary of benefits of each tree alongside a financial value of it being there.
By understanding how much rainwater a tree collects and retains every year, and how much it is helping to alleviate local air pollution, a dollar amount can be assigned to each tree.
The city-wide savings speak for themselves: $10.9million for stormwater intercepted each year; $85.4million for energy conserved each year; $6.7million for air pollutants removed each year; and $4.2million for carbon dioxide reduced each year.
All in all, New York City’s street trees deliver around $111.4million in benefits every year.
From vertical garden walls and leafy rooftops, to newly designed public squares and shady urban enclaves, urban greenery is on the up in cities across the world. With distributed climate leadership – with cities, states and businesses all playing a role in finding solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change – city mayors and regeneration executives will increasingly value good urban parks, trees and squares. And as NYC Parks has determined, the case for their inclusion and maintenance is getting easier to make.
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