In Vermont, we are lucky to have so much green space at our disposal. We don’t have to go very far to surround ourselves with nature. However, in our urban centers these spaces can be harder to get to, less dense, and less obvious. Nonetheless, we benefit greatly from our city green spaces. There have been many studies conducted to better understand just how urban trees and parks impact our physical and mental health. One such study, Multiple health benefits of urban tree canopy: The mounting evidence for a green prescription, published in Health & Place, was conducted in Sacramento, CA by a team of researchers that included Jared Ulmer, who is currently a member of the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council.
Urbanization can have some seriously negative effects on our overall health and wellbeing. Some proven impacts include decline in overall health and increased rates of obesity, along with the associated health risks, quality of life decrease, and higher health care costs. Whereas exposure to nature and green space can help to reduce stress, promote restoration, and generally improve mental health. Studies in northern Midwest communities which have received extensive canopy loss from the emerald ash borer, an invasive forest pest that feeds on and kills ash trees, have experienced high mortality rates related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illnesses (Donovan et al. The relationship between trees and human health).
The study of Sacramento’s trees confirmed assumptions that more neighborhood tree cover is associated with greater overall health. This was corroborated in the results of the study where more neighborhood tree cover was significantly associated with; 13% greater odds of reporting better general health, lower rates of * obesity, less type 2 diabetes, and higher social cohesion. In addition, a 10% increase of tree cover resulted in; 2.9% improvement of general health, 19% reduction in obesity and type 2 diabetes, 10.4% reduced current asthma, 7.4% reduction in high blood pressure, and a 1.4% increase in social cohesion.
The numbers speak volumes about the importance of trees and green space in our urban environments. We all need access to nature, and we are now understanding that the street trees and parks that make up the urban forest in densely populated areas are as integral to our health and wellbeing as the densest of woods.