The beauty of tree-lined city streets is more than skin deep. Shade trees cool concrete, asphalt and brick, reducing the amount of heat trapped within a city in the course of a summer day - a phenomenon called the "heat island" effect - and lowering the demand for air conditioning. Trees also help clean the air.
Yet a survey using satellite imagery shows that, in two dozen cities, tree canopies declined by about 25 percent over the past 30 years. It's a trend Deborah Gangloff, executive director of American Forests, the group that conducted the survey, calls a "creeping cancer."
Most cities are affected; what's worse, as these areas have gotten hotter, the loss of trees due to development or poor maintenance has accelerated. The consequence is billions of dollars in extra cooling costs.
Hartford is no exception. Although the city has some beautiful green spaces, there are plenty of places downtown and around the city where trees have been knocked down, removed or neglected to death.
The city has one part-time forester and one employee (talk about your army of one) whose time is largely spent removing trees that are safety hazards. The city does little if anything to protect trees and keep them healthy.
Or to plant new trees. Working with Hartford neighborhoods and community groups, the Knox Parks Foundation has managed to plant 300 trees over the past three years. The project was funded with $55,000 in grants, but the money has run out. Another 90 trees have been donated to the city by the Garden Club of Hartford and should be in the ground by spring.
It's a start. But Jack Hale, the Knox foundation's executive director, estimates the city needs about 10,000 trees to replace ones that have been lost or damaged on streets or in parks and forests.
One way to get the ball rolling would be to appoint a citizens panel to raise funds and develop a plan for planting new trees. The committee should also be charged with drafting a stronger municipal ordinance to ensure trees are protected. For example, developers could be required to put money in escrow to ensure that landscaping plans are completed and that trees worth protecting aren't injured or destroyed during construction.
Several major cities are taking steps to reclaim their canopies by launching tree-planting campaigns: Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago, to name a few. Sacramento, Calif., has given out 375,000 shade trees to city residents in the past 16 years.
Hartford ought to do the same.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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