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Sacremento city panorama

We call cities “concrete jungles,” but if Sacramento, California, had its way, there’d be way more jungle than concrete for more cities.

Considered one of the sunniest, hottest places on the planet, Sacramento long ago realized it had big problems with big-city concrete, and they made trees their answer. They learned that something crazy happens when you give away free trees — people plant ‘em!

A great recent article in Newsweek talks about how Sacramento became one of the most heavily treed cities in America, and reduced energy use as a result. They write that, “Over the past two decades, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District has subsidized the planting of more than 500,000 trees—sycamores, lindens, maples, oaks and two dozen other varieties—making the city one of the leafiest in the western United States.”

The power of trees

Today’s science backs up Sacramento’s early green-city premises. The US government agrees, stating a whopping 25%-40% energy that can be saved with trees near buildings during heatwaves in the summer. On Energy.gov, it’s recommended we  plant trees by homes to save money on energy, save the planet, all that jazz. Their tips can be found here. 

Utah State University’s Forestry experts go one further and say trees are great as a windbreak, providing general protection but also preventing harsh winds from forcing themselves into ventilated spots. Some believe storms can be tempered better with more trees.

Advocates knew intuitively the importance of trees, but had no way to prove it. Now, though, thanks to software tools developed by the U.S. Forest Service and studies by social scientists, there’s no longer any need to wax poetic about the majestic beauty of urban greenery. The data tell the story: Trees are infrastructure. They cool the air, soak up climate change-inducing gases, protect against flooding, reduce people’s stress levels, and raise property values. Studies even show that shoppers spend more money at stores on tree-lined streets. Read the whole article here.

The finer points

It’s a bit more complicated than “if you plant it, you will shade it.”

Too close to your home, and roots could damage your foundation. If you’re in a wet climate, the wet foliage can pose moisture dangers for your structure too. If not on the right angle to your home, it may not ever block the sun’s rays, no matter how tall it gets. You need it on the south and west sides, since that’s primarily where the sun is in this part of the world. (Australia would be the opposite.)

You can’t plant too close to the roads or common ground, and future projects done too close to their roots could damage root integrity.

The kinds of trees, the quality of shading, how dense the wood is, and so much more can impact how much that tree benefits you.

Healthy trees, healthy planet

Our communities benefit from every extra tree planted. We keep our neighborhoods cooler, our air cleaner. We regulate rain-flow better because trees will absorb the rainfall. There’s a whole lot to love about trees in your community.

In fact, studies show that trees anywhere impact the planet’s health everywhere. The more trees we lose, the more the planet as a whole is affected. On the other hand, if every city decided to be like Sacramento and hand out free trees, there’s no telling how quickly that could help improve local and global climates.

And if all that ain’t enough to woo you to the leafy side of the argument, there’s always good old-fashioned curb appeal and the eye-candy boost in value that some lovely large trees bring your property appraisal. This summer, plant a couple more trees and plan for your future. Even if it takes a few years to grow, we all know the energy crisis isn’t going anywhere, and the tree you plant today will be your energy buffer five years from now.

Trees in your city

What trees thrive in your city?

What measures have been taken to promote urban greenery where you live?

Tell us about it in the comments section of this post.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.