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Surviving in the Urban Environment By Thomas Badon, ASLA

For all the benefits of city living, the side effects are too often overlooked. For many reasons, some communities have neglected to maintain their greatest assets, their trees and parks. Perhaps the greatest contributing factor is the psychological environment we are living in. Recently, in an online survey of more than 2,000 adults conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association, those surveyed overwhelming agreed that we are living in stressful times. Among other survey findings, 35 percent of Americans say their stress levels have increased in the past year. Sixty-nine percent of people who already were experiencing high stress say their stress increased further in the past year, compared with 13 percent of those who report low stress. The top stressors include money (69 percent), work (65 percent) and the economy (61 percent). If humans are stressed, consider our landscapes. With occupancy rates down, tax revenue being diverted, and new construction slowed, investments into urban landscapes have decreased significantly over the past five years. Budget re-allocations have reduced ongoing maintenance, virtually eliminated preventative maintenance, and have forced specifications to lower quantities of necessities such as soil amendments. Further, design materials have reverted away from impervious surfaces to more cost sensitive materials such as concrete and asphalt. However, perhaps the most unintended consequence is the lack of proper maintenance. Trees and human health It is hard to argue the correlation humans have to their environment. As an example, we can cite the research and studies of Roger Ulrich published in Science Magazine in 1984. He studied patients recovering from gall bladder surgery in a suburban Philadelphia hospital. Ulrich

observed that patients recovered faster and took fewer pain medications if they had a view of a tree versus those who had a view of a brick wall. Continuing studies in human behavior, in 1997 R.W. Miller published his findings that employees who could look out their office windows and see trees and nature were happier at work. Although these study results and observations alone should be enough to justify designing and maintaining a healthy, mature, and sustainable landscape, the ever changing environment and human nature play their part, too. Consider, for example, the invasive pests introduced by human activity that have created havoc throughout the United States. Although the U.S. has experienced widespread devastation to our urban and natural forests since the 1940s with chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease, history continues to repeat itself with the emerald ash borer (EAB). Having not learned our lessons, the ash tree-planting craze started in the 1970s and early ‘80s as a hardy alternative to the American elm (Ulmus americana). With little regard for species diversity, approximately one out of every five urban trees in the Midwest is an ash tree (Fraxinus sp.), primarily of the Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) variety. In 2002, EAB was discovered in Michigan and has since spread to 19 states and two Canadian provinces. Benefits of trees There have been several studies and much research conducted to help quantify the benefits of trees and landscapes in the urban environment. Perhaps the most user-friendly tool available is the tree benefits calculator, which can be accessed at calculator. It is important to note however, that although this may consider storm water retention, energy costs, and environmental and air qualities, this calculator does not factor in any emotional attachment, privacy value. >>

Summer 2013 | Issue #17


_SCAPE 2013 Summer  
_SCAPE 2013 Summer