Urban Tree Canopies
A full quarter of the world’s forests are in cities and towns—very literally, in our own backyards. Trees are one of our most valuable natural defenses, cleaning our air and water and creating a higher quality of life. Science has demonstrated the benefits of natural solutions like reforestation—each year, for instance, Houston trees remove an estimated 779 tons of harmful ground-level ozone, a gas created from emissions from industrial facilities, electric utilities, vehicle exhaust and gasoline vapors. Trees also keep rivers healthy by absorbing toxins that pollute the water, and their root systems bind with soil to prevent erosion. Tracts of trees can help filter impurities like sediment, oil, grease and trash from our surface water and reduce stormwater runoff by absorbing rainwater, which ultimately replenishes groundwater supplies.
Building Environmental Leaders
Children in the U.S. are less connected to nature than ever—only 10 percent of kids polled by The Nature Conservancy reported spending time outside every day. That’s why initiatives like the Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program are vital. LEAF offers real world conservation work experiences to urban youth, creating formative experiences in nature and nurturing a sense of connection with the outdoors. Ninety-six percent of participants go directly to college after high school and nearly 80 percent call themselves environmentalists. A full 70 percent have reported changing the environmental behavior of others. Conservation needs these types of champions—young, proactive and fully engaged in creating a better future.
The connection between nature and cities is inextricable—it isn’t just nice to have, it’s essential. By protecting freshwater supplies, defending coastlines, maintaining a healthy tree cover and creating a new generation of environmental leaders, we can essentially future-proof our cities and ensure their continued prosperity. Imagine a world with an abundance of shared natural resources in and around urban areas. Now imagine how exciting it would be to leave that world to our children.
Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, is a former investment banker and author of the book ‘Nature’s Fortune.’ Laura J. Huffman leads the Conservancy’s Urban Strategies program and is state director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas.
main photo: Lower Central Park; © david_shankbone/flickr