The Case for Urban Forestry Planning in Pre-Design

September 1, 2020

While trees and urban forestry may play second fiddle to the viability, structure and design of sites, they should still be considered as a necessary component in pre-design. Urban forestry impacts infrastructure and costs, as well as perception and sentiment. All of which affects your performance and bottom line. 

Trees are incredible. Urban forestry is important.

They create oxygen. 

  • Trees are still the best carbon capture technology. Pulling carbon dioxide from the air, binding it up in sugar, and releasing oxygen. 

They improve air quality.

  • Trees pull pollutants from the air. 
  • Leaves absorb gaseous air pollution and ground-level ozone formation is reduced because air temperatures in tree-filled areas are cooler.

They control temperature. 

  • Every 10% increase in tree canopy cover can reduce land surface temperatures by 1.13 degrees Celsius.
  • One well-placed large tree provides an average savings of $31 in home heating costs each year.

They regulate natural environment. 

  • The canopy of leaves and branches absorbs and reduces the impact of rainfall. Draining down and redistributing with less force, reducing runoff volumes and slowing soil erosion. 
  • Tree roots help rain soak into the soil and increase the total amount of rain that the soil can absorb.

In addition to their environmental impact, they also provide a litany of reasons why they’re excellent for urban spaces.

  • They maintain habitats for birds 
  • They encourage walking.
  • They sound great in the wind. 
  • They signify changing seasons.


Intrinsic value of urban forestry.

The listed reasons above are just a handful of why trees are beloved and highly valued. Trees are so beloved and well regarded that they impact the price and value of assets. 

Per the Greater Sydney Commission, "Recent research shows that urban tree canopy is greatly valued by communities. A 10 per cent increase in street tree canopy can increase the value of properties by an average of $50,000." 

The University of Washington cites that, “The presence of larger trees in yards and as street trees can add from 3% to 15% to home values throughout neighborhoods.” 

Price increase Condition
2% Mature yard trees (greater than 9-inch dbh)
3% Larger street trees
3 - 5% Trees in front yard landscaping
6 - 9% Good tree cover in a neighborhood
10 - 15% Mature trees in high-income neighborhoods
University of Washington, Green Cities: Good Health.

It isn’t just residential developments that are influenced by urban forestry. Commercial developments also see positive impact from the addition of trees and green spaces. 

  • A study found 7% higher rental rates for commercial offices having high quality landscapes.
  • Shoppers claim that they will spend 9% to 12% more for goods and services in central business districts having high quality tree canopy.
  • Shoppers indicate that they will travel greater distance and a longer time to visit a district having high quality trees, and spend more time there once they arrive.
Price increase Condition
18% Building lots with substantial mature tree cover
22% Tree-covered undeveloped acreage
19 - 35% Lots bordering suburban wooded preserves
37% Open land that is two-thirds wooded
University of Washington, Green Cities: Good Health.

Trees and urban forestry increase site, property and development value and help ensure strong return on investment for investors. 

And there's good reason for trees can command this level of consideration. Studies show that trees make us happier, healthier and better off. 

  • Green spaces in urban areas are just as important as rural forests. 
  • Exposure to forests boosts our immune system.
  • Spending time around trees and looking at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood.
  • Improves focus. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.


Implementing urban forestry and the implied costs. 

Trees are a vital part of creating a beautiful, livable space. Which leads to the question, how much does this add to the bottom line? 

While trees can be expensive and require additional infrastructure like deep soil, drainage, irrigation, maintenance. This is likely negated by the increased value they bring to the performance of assets. 

Over the long term, they carry little maintenance costs. They grow by themselves and in an inner city, where they have to be kept clean, they cost roughly $80 per year to maintain.

At an urban scale we think of trees as a percentage of canopy cover. This image is a data layer in Giraffe colored by percentage canopy cover. The parks stick out, and the wealthier North Shore is conspicuously green.

It's a great piece of data to start thinking about trees in your scheme.

All of this is why we wrote an app that automatically places trees in areas the user specifies, and then creates a report giving the user the numbers they need to determine feasibility.

Learn more and watch the app in action.