Editor’s Note: editorial Opinions on behalf of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently of the newsroom.
A leisurely stroll through the Twin Cities area’s many streets can be a wonderful experience — especially when the canopy provides shade and beauty. But this greenery doesn’t just look pretty.
Trees play a key role in climate stabilization. They provide shade and help keep streets, sidewalks and buildings cool. Trees help absorb some of the gases that cause global warming. Environmental scientists also tout their value in preventing or at least reducing flooding.
Here and across the country, researchers have found that those who live and work in “heat islands” — such as densely developed urban areas with little consideration for green space — experience more heat-related illnesses, higher utility costs And pollution that exacerbates conditions such as heart disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases.
A recent news story in the Star Tribune describes how tree reductions in some communities can deprive residents of important benefits. Areas most affected by tree shortages tend to have lower incomes and more people of color.
It is important to spread the word, raise awareness and encourage friends and neighbors to plant more trees in the field. Owners must learn more about tree planting rules and available resources to help them.
According to the Metropolitan Commission, tree canopy differences can be stark across neighborhoods. In Minneapolis, for example, coverage in the wealthier Southwest neighborhoods is about 38 percent, while some areas in the North Side are 20 percent or less. Similar differences exist in St. Petersburg. Paul. The Highland Park neighborhood has 43 percent canopy, compared to 23 percent in Frogtown.
In North Minneapolis in 2011, a tornado swept through the community and destroyed 150 acres of trees. After more than 10 years, many of these trees have not been replaced. Costs, maintenance, reluctant landowners and landlords, competing dreams for limited space, and invasive pests are hindering canopy restoration.
The report, “Growing Shadows,” identifies metropolitan areas that the Metropolitan Commission deems environmental injustice, as well as other areas where insufficient tree cover raises public health and climate change concerns. The research also provides good guidance for actions cities and nonprofits can take.
“The trees are unevenly distributed in the area. There is real inequity,” said Ellen Esch, a data scientist at the Metropolitan Commission. “It’s going to make a big difference … not just for individuals, but for liveability, prosperity and everything in our region.”
For help, residents can turn to organizations like Green Minneapolis, a nonprofit focused on natural spaces that hopes to increase the area’s canopy by 30 percent by planting and maintaining existing trees. In August, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey created a new position to expand reforestation.
in St. Paul, Frogtown Green promotes the economic benefits of trees to landlords and property owners. So far, they have planted 600 trees and aim to plant 1,000 trees by 2025. The City of St. Louis Park provides trees to residents through a partnership with the Tree Trust, an organization that advises arborists and workers who help plant trees.
Other cities have similar programs — some of which offer trees for free or at low cost. Residents should take advantage of these efforts and encourage others to “green” their neighborhoods.