By Art Morris for Georgia Urban Forest Council
Think about your favorite neighborhood.
Now, consider that when you tell yourself “I really like this neighborhood,” it’s very
likely that what you really mean to say is “I really like the trees in this
neighborhood.” This idea that trees are a defining characteristic of desirable
neighborhoods was pointed out to me years ago by a professor at UGA and has
stuck with me throughout my career. We’re all familiar with the benefits of trees,
and their ability to add value to property, quality of life and urban ecosystems. The
challenge we face is that most of these benefits are difficult to quantify.
Over the last few decades, research has shown that the presence of trees on a site provides quantitative benefits for human health, stormwater solutions, retail sales, and property values. For example, healthy mature trees can increase residential property value by three to twelve percent. Trees in a commercial landscape improve retail sales by 7% over comparable spaces without trees. The growing economy in Georgia means that, necessarily, trees must be removed for development, and in most cases it’s much easier to remove trees, build new buildings and then replace trees than it is to preserve existing trees. A robust tree preservation effort on new construction may add as much as 5-6% to site development costs.
From a developer’s perspective, tree preservation and tree ordinances can often (and understandably) be a challenge to be overcome, rather than an opportunity to add value to the property. We (tree people) haven’t done a good job of communicating the value of trees to audiences outside of our own network. With regard to development I fear that we’re viewed as obstructionists more often than not. Development will happen with or without our input. We must do a better job communicating the value of trees, offering reasonable tree preservation plans, and working with builders to achieve mutual goals.