“A community should see itself in the same way as its trees. If trees are dying, the town is dying. Planting trees symbolizes a community that is alive, prosperous and growing.” – Arnold Leak ~ Valley, Alabama
When walking through Toronto, whether you’re roaming through the streets of Kensington Market or taking a stroll by the city’s waterfront, one thing becomes clear…Toronto is a city of trees, parks, and green spaces. In fact, Toronto’s urban forest is so large it covers 26 per cent of the city’s landscape and represents 10.2 million trees according to the city’s parks, forestry, and recreation department.
While many people may see trees as nice and pretty, we often fail to understand how important they really are. Trees within our city have the potential to bring in many social, environmental, and economic benefits. For this reason, it is crucial that the city of Toronto makes strategic choices when it comes to the protection and planning of its trees.
So what benefits can these trees really have? Well trees within a city help to reduce pollutants and improve air quality by storing and sucking in the city’s pollutants. In fact, trees within urban environments actually store 15 per cent more pollutants than trees in forests. The trees we see throughout the city of Toronto also have the ability to significantly reduce heating and cooling costs and can increase property value by about 15-20 per cent. Due to these benefits along with so many others, it is vital that the city work to protect our urban canopy.
Urban Tree Canopy: All aspects of trees such as leaves and branches that are covering the ground when viewed from above.
However, according to an article from the Globe and Mail titled “Problem trees: Three types of trees creating headaches for City of Toronto staff”, Toronto’s urban forest is in trouble. In the early twentieth century, city officials lacked expertise in the field of forestry and planted trees which grew quickly and with ease. A number of these tree species have now led to some serious complications which have the potential to wreak havoc on Toronto’s native plants and other tree species.
The invasive tree species, the norway maple, which currently has a population of about 660,000 in the city of Toronto, grows with weak tree branches, protruding roots, and produces so many seeds that they prevent other species from growing. Todd Irvine, a trained arborist, states in the Globe and Mail:
“If people really understood what those were, they’d be like, ‘Holy crap’. To let Norway Maples go in and kill those trees, it’s devastating.”
Forestry officials in the city of Toronto are now scrambling to find the best species of trees that will respond to changes in temperature due to climate change and Canada’s harsh winters, will not attract troublesome insects such as the emerald ash beetle, and will provide the environmental, social, and economic benefits that the city needs.
In March 2007, David Miller who was the mayor of Toronto at the time, announced that his goal for Toronto would be to double the canopy over Toronto by 2050. This announcement is amazing in itself, however it is most definitely a task which requires a large focus in the area of research and planning.
Planting more trees and increasing the urban tree canopy comes the possibility to reverse environmental issues that we currently are experiencing in Toronto and improve the lives of all Torontonians. However, we have to ensure that the proper steps are taking place in terms of species selection and smart planning in order for these trees to truly create positive changes for our city.
Jack McCrossin is an intern at the Canadian Urban Institute and studies Urban Studies and Forest Conservation at the University of Toronto. Jack is passionate about many topics such as housing and neighborhood change, food security, and urban ecology.