Tree Week

Living in a Neighborhood with Lots of Trees Is Way More Beneficial Than You Think — Here’s Why

published May 23, 2022
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Choosing the location of your home often boils down to a few crucial aspects. For some, the most important detail is the proximity to schools or hospitals. Others focus on property value appreciation. Maybe your utmost priority is the accessibility of major transit routes.

But have you thought to consider the abundance of trees in the neighborhood? (Yes, the trees!) Urban areas with tree-lined streets surely look beautiful — but that’s not the only reason why they’re appealing.

Trees influence various factors that affect human health, like temperature, atmospheric carbon, and air quality. Simply having 10 more trees in a city block can improve your perception of your own health, which is a strong predictor of health outcomes.  Here’s why trees are a critical asset to urban housing.

Trees Are Good for Your Health

Living in cities with accessible trees and parks is associated with positive physical and mental health, says Monica G. Turner, PhD, Eugene P. Odum professor of ecology and Vilas research professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If you’re living somewhere near trees, you probably feel more connected to nature and wildlife, which is linked with better psychological well-being and less mental stress.

A 2020 study found that people who live within 100 meters of a high density of street trees had a lower rate of antidepressant prescriptions. This suggests that your unintentional daily contact with nature may help reduce the risk of depression.

And even if you don’t go out that often — especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — just being able to see lots of neighborhood greenery from your home can reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms. Being in, nearby, or within a view of green space can also help you recover from psychosocial stress and be more optimistic.

Trees are a source of joy and inspiration for people, says Naomi Alena Sachs, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland and founding director of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network. City dwellers in areas with more trees have lower odds of heart disease and diabetes, not to mention higher rates of physical activity, she adds.

City dwellers in areas with more trees have lower odds of heart disease and diabetes, not to mention higher rates of physical activity.

Adults who live in neighborhoods with a tree cover of 30 percent or more had lower odds of not only psychological distress but also poor general health. In Japan, the five-year survival rate among people aged over 70 years is positively associated with having tree-lined streets and parks near their residences.

Overall, residential green cover is so good for your health that it is linked with lower direct healthcare costs. If you’re looking for someplace to move to, you can’t go wrong with a home with plenty of trees nearby. 

They Reduce the Effects of Climate Change, Too 

Cities are often called “concrete jungles,” and for good reason: There are plenty of buildings, pavements, and sidewalks everywhere. However, these very same infrastructures absorb and retain heat from the sun, resulting in the “urban island heat effect” that makes cities hotter than rural areas.

If you increase natural land cover by planting more trees and vegetation, those high temperatures can be reduced. The shade provided by trees helps keep temperatures much lower, especially as heat waves become more frequent, says Turner. You might notice that buildings without tree cover generally feel hotter than those with adequate shade, which shows that trees can be a great passive cooling system to some extent. 

Credit: taka1022/

Urban trees mitigate the effects of climate change, too. For instance, minimizing the urban heat island effect makes you less likely to need air conditioners in the summer, thereby reducing your energy consumption and costs, says Emily Minor, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago.

According to the USDA Forest Service, urban trees reduce the national residential energy use by more than 7 percent and save about $7.8 billion in energy costs every year. Moreover, they can capture and store carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that heats the planet, she adds.

Having lots of trees around helps avoid flooding in the streets by absorbing stormwater flow, and they may also reduce your exposure to air pollutants from motor vehicles and industrial facilities. Across the contiguous United States, urban trees remove at least 711,000 metric tons of air pollution annually.

It’s important to note that the environmental benefits of trees vary depending on the species and geographic location, says Minor. The right species planted in the right place can minimize air pollutants called particulate matter, which helps reduce mortality and morbidity. However, some species may increase the concentration of tree pollen and cause pollinosis or allergic contact dermatitis.

That said, the need for green spaces and their benefits for health and well-being remain universal, according to the World Health Organization. Across the country, there is a major tree cover and urban temperature disparity that must be addressed.

The researchers of a 2021 study found that in 92 percent of the urbanized areas they surveyed, low-income neighborhoods tend to have less tree cover than high-income blocks. On average, high-income blocks have about 15 percent more tree cover and are approximately 1.5 degrees Celsius cooler than low-income neighborhoods.

In some cases, the disparity is even bigger: High-income blocks in the Northeast have 30 percent more tree cover and are 4 degrees Celsius cooler. An estimated investment of $17.6 billion for tree planting and natural regeneration is necessary to close this tree cover inequality.

Urban Trees Provide Numerous Advantages

Planting more trees around the city isn’t just a cost-effective way to improve health and reduce the effects of climate change — they provide economic benefits as well.

You might notice that some shopping districts have more trees than other parts of the city. That’s because people tend to stay longer and spend more money in commercial areas with trees, says Sachs.

In residential areas, property values are higher when there are trees around. “Anyone who has ever apartment hunted knows that a view of nature versus a view of a brick wall or some asphalt-covered rooftop will be more expensive,” Sachs adds.

Even having trees in your own backyard is instrumental. Aside from providing shade to your home, they also make a great nature-based play space for activities like climbing, swinging, and playing in tree houses. While these activities may seem frivolous, nature play helps children develop their cognitive and fine and gross motor skills, says Sachs.

Ultimately, urban trees are essential for a happy, healthy life at home. One thing’s for sure, according to Sachs: Whether the trees are in your yard, on the street, in your home, or at a nearby park, you’ll be reaping multiple benefits.