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Trees in the city make you healthier – study

It’s common knowledge that trees make the air and their general vicinity fresher, more beautiful. But in highly urbanized densely populated areas, there’s not a lot of them and we’ve always “paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” which results in the shrinkage and disappearance of green spaces. And if you need additional reasons to believe that we need more trees in the city, you should know that they may actually have a direct impact on your health and well-being.

Quirino Avenue in Manila
Published in Nature.com’s Scientific Reports, new research from the University of Chicago, Indiana University, the University of Adelaide, the University of Toronto, the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences and the David Suzuki Foundation found that people who live on city blocks with more trees are likely to be healthier than those who reside in neighborhoods with less trees.

The study took place in Toronto, Canada covering 530,000 individual trees planted on public areas and over 31,000 city residents.

Katipunan_Avenue in Quezon City
“We find that having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger,” the researchers wrote.

Meanwhile, an 11-tree difference “decreases cardio-metabolic conditions in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger.”

Estrella Street in Makati
Results “suggest that people who live in neighborhoods with a higher density of trees on their streets report significantly higher health perception and significantly less cardio-metabolic conditions.” To experience these benefits, increasing the street tree density by as little as four percent is hypothesized to be significant enough.

The paper acknowledges the “known” positive effects of trees in urban centers, such as improving air quality, reducing energy use for cooling and heating, and making the environments “aesthetically more preferable.” It also cites previous research on the physiological and psychological restorative effects of exposure to green spaces.

A tree-lined street in New York
It seems that planting more trees is a cost-effective way to improve public health. Based on the findings, “improving health perception and decreasing cardio-metabolic conditions by planting 10 more trees per city block is equivalent to increasing the income of every household in that city block by more than $10,000, which is more costly than planting the additional 10 trees.”

Tree-lined streets and green spaces are common among Metro Manila’s gated communities, including Dasmariñas Village, Ayala Alabang Village and Forbes Park. But outside the subdivision walls, urban oases are hard to come by and the ones that remain are at risk of being completely annihilated. These include the Ayala Triangle Gardens, which tree population is set to be reduced once the northern part of the park gets turned into a mixed-use vertical development.

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