Street Trees Pay Us Back

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Published on: Jun. 30, 2010

Stately street trees give us cool shade in summer, beauty in autumn and good green growth in the spring. They provide green of another kind, too. The same trees lining our urban streets provide millions of dollars in economic value to towns and townsfolk. It’s as if they were growing dollar bills instead of leaves.

What foresters call “street trees” are just trees that line the street in towns and cities. Most grow between the street and the sidewalk or, where no sidewalk exists, along the road. Most of the trees grow on city-owned easements.

We have long known that street trees were valuable assets, but we could not determine a dollar value for them. Recently, however, a project in the Kansas City area measured street tree benefits in dollars for several cities around the metro area. That’s how we now know, for example, that the 415,000 trees growing on city rights-of-way in Kansas City provide an average benefit of $123 per year per tree, or more than $51 million annually.

The project, undertaken by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Mid-America Regional Council and the Kansas Forest Service, uses a USDA Forest Service computer program called i-Tree Streets. The program collects city street tree inventory data and coordinates information on tree species, size, condition and maintenance needs so cities can effectively allocate money to care for their trees.

The value of trees varies from one community to another. For example, economic benefits to cities in the Kansas City region range from $70 to $195 per street tree. North Kansas City, a small residential and industrial burg in the heart of the metro area, has 1,800 well-maintained street trees that return about $345,000 annually to the city in economic benefits. That’s an average of about $190 per tree per year.

Liberty, a suburban community, has smaller trees, many of which have been storm-damaged, in its historic neighborhoods, but they still average $70 per tree annually in benefits.

How Do Trees Grow Money?

Shade during summer means cooler temperatures around a home and cooler overall urban temperatures. In a city’s heavily developed commercial center, concrete and brick absorb summer heat and create an “urban heat island,” making city centers 5 to 15 degrees warmer than the surrounding residential neighborhoods and the rural countryside.

Street trees reduce the heat buildup. They save Kansas City more than $14.6 million annually in heating and cooling costs for

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