Recent efforts to clear a path through South LA have brought our attention to the removal of nearly 400 mature trees. This is a tragedy. Urban trees have tremendous economic value, both in actual money savings and in increasing the aesthetic beauty of a neighborhood that often translates into vibrant local economies.
Actual cost savings have been attributed to trees in the city of Los Angeles. Studies estimate that the value of our urban forest, here in LA, to be roughly $12.4 billion dollars. This number is further broken down into categories, including, but not limited to trees ability to filter air pollution, the reduction of energy costs (both in air conditioning and water savings), and ground water filtration.
The indirect, or hidden, value of trees resides within a stronger sense of community. Trees provide shade, enticing neighborhood residents to step out into the community even in warmer days. Combining a healthy urban forest with efforts to increase walk ability in an area creates larger a customer base for local entrepreneurs, raising tax revenue for the city and adding value to the properties within the golden range of a 5-8 minute walk of a neighborhood business district. I other words, when you make an area inviting to pedestrians through wider sidewalks, trees strategically placed between the pedestrians and cars to create a psychological sense of safety, and zoning for mixed-use commercial/residential zones within a neighborhood, you foster strong local economies.
The final, and I believe most important contribution that urban trees provide, is lower crime. Theories abound as to why this is true, but studies from the University of Vermont have factored that an increase in the urban canopy by roughly 10% results in a decrease in neighborhood crime by roughly 12%.
The value of these trees far outweighs the value of a space shuttle. This is a spectacle unfolding before us, one replete with the long-term loss of communities that cannot afford to take major steps backwards in exchange for an exhibition that will most likely add very little value to their lives.
In essence, we are thrusting one of humanity’s most heralded accomplishments (space travel) into the fire of humanity’s least beneficial tendencies: the constant reach for short-sighted and temporary gains.