As our elected representatives in Parma, in order to balance the budget, choose to close the city pools, eliminate city fireworks displays, charge new trash collection fees, and try to attract new businesses to the city, such as Pitt Ohio and Rush Truck Center, maybe it’s time to also start focusing on something that could give the city the boost that it really needs. That boost I’m talking about is walkability. Specifically, neighborhood walkability and the expansive tree canopy throughout the city that would help to promote it.
Whether we’re looking to improve commercial districts such as Polish Village (Ridge Rd, Parma) or residential streets, when it comes to neighborhood walkability, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of a healthy and abundant tree canopy. In fact, it may be one the best investments the city can make. Just ask Jeff Speck, a city planner who advocates for smart growth and sustainable design, who discovered that while rich and safe streets had good tree cover, poor and dangerous streets didn’t.
“Because they have such a powerful impact on walkability, street trees have been associated with significant improvements in both property values and retail viability. Since this enhancement translates directly into increased local tax revenue, it could be considered financially irresponsible for a community to not invest heavily in trees.”
Jeff Speck, Walkable City
One way for Parma to take meaningful action in recognizing the importance and value of trees is to pursue, achieve, and maintain a Tree City status. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, this is done by meeting four core standards of sound urban forestry management: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance (Parma seems to have one), spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry (this would amount to a minimum of $163,200 spent for Parma’s population of 81,601), and celebrating Arbor Day. The following list of Tree Cities in Ohio reveals which cities have invested in trees and the length of time they’ve maintained tree city status.
There are numerous benefits of trees to a community. Trees provide shade (pleasant walks; 15-35% less A/C required), reduce temperatures in hot weather, absorb rainwater (25% additional tree cover reduces stormwater by 10%), absorb carbon emissions, provide UV protection, and can limit the effects of wind. Trees have also been shown to increase property values up to 10%; increase income streams to shops on tree-lined streets up to 12%; and provide traffic calming effects benefiting drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. A recent study of healthy street trees in Portland, Oregon revealed a 12:1 payoff, adding significantly to property tax revenues.
Again, trees may be one of the best investments Parma can make. City leaders seemed to understand that back in the 1960s when they developed a comprehensive Tree Plan listing a variety of trees for each street in the city. Back then, even the Parma Jaycees, now dissolved, took trees seriously and actively offered to plant them for Parma’s many residents.
As Parma approaches the threshold of another possible budgetary dilemma in 2016, it seems to be more important than ever for our elected representatives to take seriously the benefits trees can provide and take action to invest in the city’s long-term financial future. Can we persuade our elected representatives to move forward on this initiative to enhance our city? Or should we resign ourselves to more of the same?