Advocates knew intuitively the importance of trees, but had no way to prove it. Now, though, thanks to software tools developed by the U.S. Forest Service and studies by social scientists, there’s no longer any need to wax poetic about the majestic beauty of urban greenery. The data tell the story: Trees are infrastructure. They cool the air, soak up climate change-inducing gases, protect against flooding, reduce people’s stress levels and raise property values. Studies even show that shoppers spend more money at stores on tree-lined streets.
“Schools, police, fire, everything that we pay for from the tax structure has a direct value to it,” says David Nowak, one of the creators of the U.S. Forest Service’s tree-tracking software, called i-Tree. “So if you want to put trees on the same playing field to make economic decisions, we have to put it in economic terms.”