10 Reasons Why Trees Matter to Downtown Denver

January 15, 2019

Denverites are blessed to be at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with vistas and recreation options galore. We are fresh-powder-seeking and sun-loving citizens.

16th Street Mall downtown denverDowntown Denver is becoming a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and city slickers alike. Our need to flee to the mountains on the weekends is lessening as our center city is becoming more and more of an outdoor destination. From the Downtown Denver Rink at Skyline Park to the 5280 Loop (in progress), the mountain lifestyle is right at our fingertips.

What is missing? Currently, the Downtown Denver’s tree canopy is at 4%. Due to Denver’s climate: a semi-arid grassland, with low moisture, high elevation, and wide temperature extremes, a thriving tree ecosystem is desperately needed.

Why? Trees are for everyone: the bikers, business owners, and soccer team carpoolers. Studies during the last 40 years on humans and landscapes generally find that people of all ages and cultural backgrounds prefer natural views to built settings and that urban spaces with trees receive higher ratings for visual quality.

Below are 10 (of the many) reasons why growing a healthy urban forest is essential to the vibrancy of Downtown Denver.

1. Trees cool Denver. Trees lower surface and air temperature by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. Trees also provide shade for people and buildings. They reduce energy use by decreasing the demand for air conditioning. They also provide people an escape from the sun on a hot day.

Exposed pavement can cause temperatures to rise 3-7° while tree shade can lower energy bills up to 35%. Temperature differentials of 5-15° are felt when walking under tree-canopied streets.

2. Trees clean our air. Urban areas produce pollutants and particulate matter. Trees can absorb these toxins through their leaves, removing them from the air.

In Chicago, trees remove more than 18,000 tons of air pollution each year.

3. Trees help reduce the effects of climate change. Trees survive through a process called photosynthesis. Through this process, trees take in carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, and releases oxygen.

In one year, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange. In one year, an acre of mature trees can absorb the amount of CO2 produced by a car driven 26,000 miles! That’s like driving from Denver to New York City and back 8 times!

4. Trees make Denver a safer place to live. It has been proven dozens of times that crime is reduced, even speeding violations, when trees line the streets.

In Baltimore, a 10% increase in tree canopy corresponded to a 12% decrease in crime.

5. Trees intercept stormwater runoff. Through their leaves and roots, trees prevent stormwater and harmful chemicals from reaching water. For every 5% of tree cover in a community, stormwater runoff is reduced by 2%.

With mature trees and our limited precipitation, there is potential to eliminate a hard storm water system all together Downtown Denver.

6. Trees heal. Surgery patients who can view greenery (i.e. parks, gardens and/or trees) recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls. Exposure to trees and nature relieves stress and reduces mental fatigue.

7. Trees promote shopping and increase business traffic. People are more likely to shop in business districts with treescaping. Not only do they shop more, but also they tend to spend more! Studies show that the more trees and landscaping a business district has, the more business will flow in. A treelined street will also slow traffic – enough to allow the drivers to look at the storefronts instead of whizzing by.

8. Trees reduce maintenance costs. Shaded pavement and sidewalks last longer than exposed pavement. This results in less maintenance, saving material, and labor costs.

9. Trees add unity. Trees as landmarks can give a neighborhood a new identity and encourage civic pride and community empowerment.

10. Trees are good for your (and your dog’s) oxygen levels. They provide oxygen, reduce ultraviolet radiation, and have a calming effect on people.

In fact, a single urban street tree converts enough carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into oxygen to meet the oxygen needs of two people for a full year.

And the list goes on. That is why we embarked on the Downtown Denver Urban Forest Initiative to increase our tree canopy from 4% to 10%.

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