When stepping onto the University of Illinois at Chicago, the average pedestrian might not realize how valuable our green space really is. Every tree is valuable. If you have ever benefited from clean air on campus, or relaxed in the perfect patch of shade, then you have benefitted from our Campus Forest.
Green spaces and trees are a good predictor of human health. They offer a wide range of health and economic benefits at the individual, community, and social level. These benefits include improved air quality due to the reduction of carbon footprint and pollutants, restorative physiological and psychological functions due to the contact with the natural environment, increased opportunities for physical activities and social contacts, and several other benefits. Here are a few public health metrics that can be used to measure the health advantages of UIC green spaces.
Green plants clean the air by reducing greenhouse gases and pollutant particulates in the atmosphere, and also cools the air by minimizing the “heat island effect” resulted from concrete, tall buildings, and asphalt. These air quality improvement and cooling can help reduce the incidences of respiratory illnesses and symptoms; costs associated with hospital visits and admissions, as well as work days losses; heat-related illnesses, and several others. According to an i-Tree ecosystem analysis of all inventoried UIC trees, the UIC campus forest can remove nearly 2,000 pounds of air pollution annually including ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). To see the benefits of any one individual tree on campus, you can do so by first searching for it on the UIC Tree Inventory and then by inputing that information on the National Tree Benefit Calculator.
Water Quality & Management
Storm water runoff is an increasing environmental concern because if poorly managed, storm water pollutes our water, poses harm to marine creatures and also water consumers, and subsequently destroys the natural habitat. Through the use of green spaces like native plants, trees and other greenery, substantial amount of precipitation can be captured and thereby slows down the runoff of storm water. UIC Trees will capture and store stormwater at an annual rate of nearly 60,000 cubic feet.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction
The UIC Climate Commitments pledges to become carbon neutral by 2050 by reducing the amount of energy we use and investing in renewable energy. Trees can also help UIC reduce carbon emission by their ability to capture and sequester carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. Trees use carbon to grow and produce oxygen as a by-product. The UIC campus forest is able to sequester 20.5 tons of carbon each year!
Trees also reduce carbon emissions at the building level. When a tree is planted near a building, it reduces the building’s need for excess energy to heat and cool it because of the shade the tree provides, among other factors. For more information visit: The Center for Urban Forest Research.
Open spaces with trees and other form of greenery encourage community to spend time outdoor, and use these available green spaces for healthy physical activities such as walking, cycling, and other social activities. Green spaces help to meet “Leave No Child Inside” national health objective, while strengthening social ties and improving community health status through increased physical and social activities at the same time.
Sense of well-being
Studies have shown that green spaces are associated with lower prevalence of lifestyle-, biological-, and cardiovascular-related risk factors. On top of that, green spaces also facilitate physiological and psychological healing, enhance better self-perceived health, lower overweight and obesity rates, decrease blood pressure, and several other morbidity and mortality rates.
In neighborhoods that have more green spaces there are less crimes and violence. A study in Chicago showed that green spaces reduce both property crime and violent crime as it improves the environmental cleanliness and appearance. The safety perception and collective surveillance in the neighborhood are both boosted by green spaces. With these natural open spaces, communities also experience decreased feelings of anger, frustration, and also aggressions.
Green spaces are associated with stress-reducing effects. Studies have shown that green scenery improves self-discipline, enhance attention capacity, and thereby boosts general academic and work performances. There are 20% improvement in self-discipline among attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) children. Academic performances in schools demonstrate significant improvement following the integration of more natural environment. Office workers with a view of green nature outside the window are shown to experience less stress and anxiety, become more productive, and reportedly have a higher rate of job satisfaction.
Following increasing urbanization, urban green space is also becoming increasingly important. Do not overlook the benefits that green spaces can provide to improve the health of the communities. Do not see green spaces as a luxury good, instead, view green spaces as a basic necessity. It is important that while speaking of green space, we should also consider environmental justice issues because many rural and poor neighborhoods do not have access to green spaces. They are not able to enjoy the kind of benefits that people from green neighborhood enjoy.
- Environmental benefits of trees: Ecosystem Analysis of the UIC Consolidated Tree Inventory and the National Tree Benefit Calculator (The National Tree Benefit Calculator was conceived and developed by Casey Trees and Davey Tree Expert Co.)
- Social benefit of trees: University of Illinois Landscape and Human Health Laboratory.
- Human health benefit of trees: Quantifying tree benefits of public health