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Greening the Concrete Jungle

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Greening the Concrete Jungle

Earth Day is April 22nd.  How can we, in this modern age, show our love to the forests and help spread the green? You can find the full article on page 45 of alive’s April 2020 issue, under “Tree hugging in the new millennium: For our health and the planet’s, we must embrace the forests”. When we think of cities, we tend to picture buildings and other human-made structures. Increasingly, however, the status of city trees is commanding attention. Urban forests are a vital community resource. Yet many Canadian cities are losing their green canopy at an alarming rate.

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A careful balance

Tree Canada President Michael Rosen identifies population densification as a main cause of urban canopy loss. While he readily acknowledges that “densification makes a lot of sense” for reducing sprawl and its associated environmental problems, he also believes we “need to figure out how to [densify] and keep the trees at the same time.”

Asked if such a balance is possible, Christel Lindgren, a Metro Vancouver planner who focuses on streetscapes, doesn’t hesitate: “Absolutely.” She explains that, historically, far more city resources have been devoted to building infrastructure, while trees have been viewed as self-sufficiently “natural.”

We need to give trees (and their underground space) the same amount of thought and resources, Lindgren maintains. To date, she’s encouraged by urban re-greening initiatives, such as the planting of “boulevard trees” to compensate for tree loss on developed properties. But she’d like to see municipalities and developers doing more.

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Prioritizing trees

Michael Friesen, another planner in Metro Vancouver, agrees that the urban tree canopy needn’t be sacrificed as cities densify. He points out, however, that Canadian city planning is “a political activity, not a scientific one” and that “trees are not currently the highest political priority.”

Want to encourage your lawmakers to protect and increase urban tree cover (rather than, say, parking amenities)? Attending public hearings, writing to city councillors, and supporting agencies that advocate for trees are all good options.

Or consider offering hands-on help. Extreme weather, pests, disease, invasive plants, and even vandalism can threaten city trees. Volunteer help in coping with these problems is often welcome. Contact your municipality or a local forest stewardship organization for information on volunteer programs such as summer watering, planting, or invasive species removal.

City trees are resilient, but they’re not invincible. We need to care for them as the co-citizens they arguably are.

Tireless volunteers

According to the Toronto and Region Conservation Association, Toronto’s urban forests are “vital infrastructure that provides $125 million in services to the GTA each year." These services include such things as stormwater management, temperature regulation, and air filtration.

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