Tree canopy in Cincinnati neighborhoods might seem like a “nice to have” issue that barely impacts people’s lives, but that is far from the truth. It has a direct impact on the temperatures in our neighborhoods, health of Cincinnatians, and the pocketbooks of our neighbors. And it’s an issue that impacts lower income neighborhoods of color disproportionately. Investing in increasing tree canopy also is one of the higher returns on investment (>3:1), which makes it one of our smarter investments as a city.
A recent study from August 2020 and two maps of our city’s neighborhoods from the Cincinnati Parks shows a direct correlation between tree canopy coverage and mean surface temperature. Higher tree canopy coverage = lower temperatures, which impacts everything from air particles that negatively affect one’s health to energy costs.
The Cincinnati Parks National Resource Management plan among other things calls for a by-neighborhood street tree planting program and a gateway tree program along highways to address the negative impacts of pollution from interstate traffic. On the by-neighborood street planting program, the benefits laid out by that plan are clear:
“Street trees in Cincinnati create a value of $3.24 million for stormwater, carbon, air pollution abatement. Half of street trees-located eastern or western side of buildings, create a value of $4.76 million for energy saving. The annual benefit for each tree is $94.12. Comparing benefits with annual maintenance costs, every $1 invested in city trees results in $3.80 in benefits.”
Over the past five years, I have served on the Cincinnati Park Foundation Board, which is the private, non-profit organization that supports Cincinnati Parks. We have made progress on tree plantings despite invasive plants, but so much more needs to be done. On City Council, I would work to advance the plans set out by the Cincinnati Parks and push for a goal of 50% coverage in Cincinnati by 2030 through a few specific measures:
- Accelerate the green and cool rooftop initiative particularly in the Central Business District and other areas with low canopy coverage with new grants combined with existing loans. This is not a part of the aforementioned Cincinnati Parks plans, but the EPA has clearly show that green rooftops (and cool roofs) lower temperatures and air conditioning demand and improve human health. Compared to conventional roofs, the benefits of extensive green roofs are $14 more per square foot, while cool roofs provide benefits of $2 more per square foot relative to conventional roofs according to the EPA. The city, MSD & Ohio EPA already have a Green Roof Loan Program that needs to be accelerated with grants with a goal of increasing green and cool rooftops by 10x.
- Ask our corporate community to invest in tree canopy by their own buildings AND also “adopt a neighborhood canopy plan”. The data clearly shows energy savings for companies by planting on the east & west side of their buildings. But we need to go further than this: we need to make progress in communities most in need; an “adopt a neighborhood canopy plan” would yield meaningful progress. Companies outside of Cincinnati such as Shopify also have sustainability programs with whom we should explore funding.
- Advocate with ODOT to partner with the Cincinnati Parks in restoring tree loss along highway corridors specifically I-75 around Mitchell and along I-71 & I-74. The lack of tree canopy along I-75 for example with recent construction means not only runoff into the Mill Creek, but higher temperatures and lower air quality for surrounding communities. ODOT pulled up hundreds of trees with the I-75 expansion; it’s only right that the State of Ohio partner with the city to replant this to address the negative impact of that expansion on our neighborhoods.
- Fully fund the recommendations on increasing tree canopy growth by neighborhood already laid out by the Cincinnati Parks including ones such as for Bond Hill below. Of course we should seek to solicit private donations for these plans, but what is not covered needs to be made a priority.
Improving tree canopy has a direct impact on the health of our neighborhoods. And with an annual benefit of $94.12 of each tree planted on streets, this means real savings for Cincinnatians in energy costs and savings on health care costs. At a time of economic hardship with the pandemic, investing in increasing tree canopy in lower income communities in particular means $ back in the pockets of those who need it the most.
Cincinnati is sometimes referred to as a “City in a Park”. At 38% tree canopy growth overall, we’re higher than the national average of 27%, but we should shoot for 50% by 2030. That goal means tangible benefits, and is a smart investment particularly as we make sure the benefits of that coverage are felt by all. Let’s build that together.