Guest post courtesy of Matthew Higginson from Toronto’s LEAF (Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests)
The urban forest is the most important piece of any city, but sometimes we forget how it connects us to the planet’s intricate ecosystem, keeps tourists coming back and brings us all together. So as its buds get ready to leaf out, here are the top five reasons we should all show some love this spring by planting a few seeds of our own.
It’s got your back
The cold weather is still upon us, and I think we can all agree there are too few sunny breaks in this chain of grey. But winter is a real proving ground for our urban trees. On many not-so-pleasant windy days I’ve taken shelter amongst evergreens and nestled up against the wide trunk of leafless maples and oaks. And beyond saving your extremities from freezing off, these windbreaks can also save you money, lowering winter heating costs by up to 10%. Strategically planted trees and shrubs can mean lower A/C demands in the summer and lower heating bills when the frigid seasons rolls around again. It’s better for the grid, and ultimately better for us all.
It’s a big picture
The oak in your yard may seem like a loner, but she’s really a social butterfly. Long before any human arrived in this region, the urbanscape was a dense boreal forest. We’ve definitely changed the face of that, but along with development, we’ve done a lot of work to help trees survive in our hardened spaces, such as silva cells, mulch and reducing harmful inputs like salt. All of the trees you see form a hard-working ecosystem that benefits our cities, from providing wildlife habitat all the way to cleaning pollution from the air. It’s like an army of stoic creatures working to keep our city alive.
It never asks for anything in return
My city, like yours, is full of towering, magnificent trees that may seem like they don’t need a thing from us. But all those years when I didn’t have a place to park my bike, that small tree out front seemed like a good idea (it wasn’t). And when I wanted to express my undying love for Judith Lankry in the fourth grade, the bark of the school yard honey locust just seemed like the most timeless option (also not a great idea). And all the while these giants stood quietly, not for a second threatening to close me off to their many benefits. Though they would never ask, we could all stand to respect our cities’ collective lungs a little more. That may mean mulching the tree in front of my house, or watering the one out back during a dry season. Or it might just mean taking a tree tour to learn a bit more about my neighbourhood.
In every city you visit you can find the monuments and architecture that uniquely characterize its history. If you happen to be near a window you can probably see several now. But now imagine that same view without any trees, shrubs, grass or plants in general. It’s easy to forget, but these are the true attractions in any place. They live in the parks and riversides, backyards and islands. And they’re not just offering a pretty face. They earn their keep, increasing property values by up to 30% and keeping us from simply washing away. They’re what allow us to reconnect with nature and our neighbours, constantly changing to keep everything interesting.
It brings the community together
Trees improve relationships between family, friends and neighbours; they calm traffic and keep communities safer. Natural surroundings provide relief from extreme weather, concrete and noise of the city, improving our overall physical and psychological health. Tree care and planting projects also bring neighbours together around a common goal that improves their neighbourhood. These can be as big as some of the work that LEAF did up in Toronto’s Milne Hollow, planting hundreds of new trees and shrubs to renaturalize a critical watershed. Or they can be smaller like our TTC Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens, which are designed to breathe fresh air into some of the most urban, concrete paved spaces around.
In the past two years at LEAF, I’ve seen some pretty amazing things when people start to notice the city for the trees. When they decide to change their neighbourhoods for the better and are empowered to make it happen, it can be pretty inspiring. So my final question is this: what will you do for your urban forest this year?
Matthew Higginson lives in Toronto and works as the Marketing and Communication Coordinator at LEAF (Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection and improvement of the urban forest. Since 1996, LEAF has helped citizens plant over 17,000 trees and shrubs and engaged citizens in urban forest stewardship across Toronto, York Region the surrounding areas.
Tags: LEAF urban forest urban green