From Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson
What are the merits of trees in an urban environment? Orange County wanted to find out.
On June 13th, Orange County hosted a community meeting to give information to the public regarding the study on unincorporated Orange County’s urban trees as well as to collect opinions and ideas from the community. There were maps to detail information on where amongst the County there are varying amounts of trees and what kind of trees. Coordinators of the meeting and study were present to answer any questions and receive feedback for consideration.
The information received helped to answer the lead question.
An urban tree canopy is not just the area that contains the tree but also includes the area that the tree overhangs to provide shade and protection. Trees provide many benefits to the community from environmental to economic to aesthetic. The benefits of trees can easily exceed the costs of planting and maintaining by reducing runoff, lowering temperatures, decreasing air pollution, cutting down on heating and cooling expenses, giving aesthetic benefits, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide, improving learning and concentration, boosting health and well-being, raising property values, and providing habitats for wildlife to thrive.
Trees are often mistaken as a liability to building establishments, parking lots, and their overall profits. But trees actually have been found to extend the life and well-being of parking lots when it includes trees throughout. After all, many people tend to prefer to park under shade rather than the blaring hot sun of Central Florida with no protection at all. Trees give a less harsh feeling to people as well as make them feel safer and more comfortable.
Trees are often a great tie-in to the increasingly popular hot topic of pedestrian and bicyclist safety as well as the heavy, very demanding traffic issues in Central Florida, particularly Orange County. Trees are great for traffic calming, or more specifically slowing down traffic, making drivers more aware of surroundings, and encouraging more careful driving. Trees are just one example of a traffic calming technique in modifying the physical design of a roadway to slow traffic and make for safer travel. Other examples might be narrowing of roads and speed humps. The addition of trees may give drivers the feeling that the roadway is narrower than it really is which encourages slower, more careful driving. This means that drivers are more likely to take notice and caution when there are pedestrians or bicyclists nearby. Trees that are too large or certain shapes just need to be avoided so that the necessary viewing range that drivers need is not obscured and therefore cause extra traffic accidents.
Trees are an excellent way to make it more pleasant for people to choose alternative ways to get around the community other than just by personal vehicles. Tree canopies make it much more comfortable, enjoyable, relaxing, and less brutally hot in warm weather to walk or bicycle around whether for exercise, pleasure, errands, getting to work, or whatever it may be. When people walk or bike, it reduces the damage to the environment from so many cars on roadways and decreasing cars on the roads when more people walk or bike also decreases traffic congestion with fewer cars on the roads. Better environments for walking and biking as a result of more trees also makes it more tolerable for those who choose or need to use bus systems for transit.
When conditions are better for non-motor vehicle travel, then people more often walk around where there are trees and more likely window shop, which leads to eventual purchases. Downtown Winter Park near Park Avenue does a great job with tree-lined walkways along retail and specialty shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and more. It is always great to see people enjoying the outdoors doing such a variety of things in that area and slightly less reliant on cars. A favorite sight is the landscaped medians that also feature areas with benches in which it is not uncommon to see someone relaxing with a book.
The ability for people to be able to get outdoors and be more comfortable under tree canopies when they walk, bike, sit, or whatever it may greatly improve the health and well-being of people. The act of spending time outdoors can improve health, brain function, mood, behavioral issues, and more. This idea can be described with the term “nature deficit disorder,” which was coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. When the well-being of people in a community is better, it makes sense that a community as a whole should likely be more successful, and happy.
It was actually in Florida that the term “green infrastructure” was coined, but at the time it only referred to green infrastructure like the wetlands such as the Everglades. The term is today carries so much more meaning. Green infrastructure now includes the idea that natural trees, old and new, should be evident amongst communities even in urban areas for many great benefits like economic, ecological, psychological and physiological. This can mean also greenery just in potted plants, but it is very important to have trees planted in the grounds for the environment even more. It is valuable to keep old trees and try to, when possible, developing around them, and planting new trees as well. Everyone can help by providing their feedback, saving and caring for trees, and planting new trees when and where possible.