Trees figured prominently in the lives of Phoenix’s early settlers. Moving from enveloping green landscapes on the east coast to the vast and open desert, trees were more than a nostalgic reminder of home – they were also a practical necessity. Trees provided shade from the sun, protection from desert winds, and heat when used as firewood.
Early photographs show Phoenix as a City covered in trees. As a visitor in 1905 commented, “Everywhere there is shade and plenty of it. The entire valley, from Mesa into Phoenix, is one solid mass of green, and every road is a perfect avenue. Chinaberry trees, palm, and cottonwoods line the driveway, or lanes as they call them, and the entire distance from Mesa to Phoenix can be driven under an almost unbroken arch of shade.” [i]
Sadly, we have lost that “unbroken arch of shade” that dominated our early history. The City of Phoenix estimates that across the City, only 8% of the land area is shaded by trees. Across the City’s sprawling 519 square miles, we have just over 92,000 trees owned and cared for by the City. Compare this with other cities such as Denver which has 19.7% and New York with 24% tree canopy coverage. In actual numbers of trees, that’s 5.2 million across Denver and 2.2 million trees in NYC.
Phoenix has quite a bit of catching up to do.
The good news is that the City of Phoenix set the goal to increase our canopy from 8% to 25% by 2030. This is smart not just from the perspective of creating a more enticing and comfortable environment for Phoenix citizens – it is also a wise financial decision. Although many of our older neighborhoods are still filled with citrus that are no longer a financial boon through the sale of their fruit, owners still financially benefit from the less tangible qualities trees bring to our neighborhoods. Shade, cooling, beauty and protection all translate into increased property values, retail sales, financial savings and tax revenue.
Businesses on tree-lined streets show a 12% higher income stream— .
Many have discussed the benefits trees provide from the perspective of livability, health and the environment – all of which I wholeheartedly agree –in this post I’m going to focus on the other kind of green trees provide: money.
Trees Benefit Business
A study in Seattle cited by the US Forest Service found that on average, prices were 11 percent higher in landscaped areas than in areas lacking trees.[ii] The Seattle researchers were able to illustrate a bias among shoppers that a street lined with large mature trees looks more appealing and that the goods sold inside directly benefitted from those good feelings felt towards the neighborhood overall. It’s also important to clarify – it’s not just that shop owners were inclined to raise their prices due to neighborhood trees. A Portland study illustrated that businesses on tree-lined streets show a 12% higher income stream.[iii] Shoppers will spend more total dollars if your business is located on a street with lush landscaping.
Trees Benefit Property Owners
Towering trees provide more than beauty – they increase property values. Nationwide surveys by the National Association of Realtors reveal that mature trees in a well-landscaped yard can increase property values by 7 – 19 percent. Additionally, a study by University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business illustrated that trees planted within fifty feet of houses in a Philly neighborhood experienced a nine percent increase. This is not just true for homeowners. Commercial property owners also see an increase of $15,000 – $25,000 in properties with trees as well. [iv]
Trees Save Cash Over the Long-Term
Trees’ shade and cooling also reduce energy bills. The temperature under a tree is between 5-15 degrees cooler than direct sun – consider asphalt in the equation and you can include an additional 7 degrees of cooling. This can translate into a savings between 15% – 35% on your energy bills. For an individual building the net cooling effect of a healthy tree is the same as ten room-sized air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.[v]
For an individual building the net cooling effect of a healthy tree is the same as ten room-sized air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
For an individual building the net cooling effect of a healthy tree is the same as ten room-sized air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.— .
Considering this on the city-scale, Denver calculated their businesses and residents saving approximately 56,471 Mwh each year in cooling — more than $6.7 million dollars in energy savings! Just imagine what that could mean for Phoenix with our scorching summers.
Trees Make the City Money & Reduce Public Expenditures
All the extra cash going through the sales register and increased property taxes also translate into more money for local government. Portland calculated that having healthy street trees adds $15.3M in annual property taxes to the City coffers. In contrast, the City pays $1.28M for tree planting and maintenance – that’s a 12:1 payoff. Similarly, Denver has estimated that they get an additional $7.1M in additional revenue and save $3.6M in city infrastructure expenditures. Austin’s 34% canopy coverage is estimated to provide $15M annually in air quality benefits and $883M annually in storm water benefits.
This money is not just a fancy accounting trick to claim savings without actual dollars exchanging hands. When Atlanta’s tree coverage decreased 48% between 1974 and 1996 they saw a 33% increase in stormwater. As a result, Atlanta citizens saw their local taxes increase to cover a $1.18B (yes, BILLION) investment in new stormwater retention facilities. [vi]
Given all of the financial benefits to homeowners, businesses and local governments it’s hard to disagree with street trees’ power to give back ten-fold. Let’s all help Phoenix return to a “solid mass of green” where “every road is a perfect avenue” because it turns out money does grow on trees.
[i] Edward Lebow. Following the Water: A Century of Change. “Historical and Contemporary Photographs of Salt River Valley Canals.” Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 1997
[vi] City of Phoenix Tree & Shade Masterplan.
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“Surviving Sprawl with Pop-Up Placemaking in Phoenix”
“The Politics of Sustainability”
“Preservation vs. Profit”
“Book Review: Big Box Reuse”