Q-and-A: Urban trees are more than just ornamental
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
Geoffrey Donovan will discuss his research on the health benefits of urban trees tonight at a Portland State University event.
Is there a relationship between shrubbery and public health?
To a degree, yes, says Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester with the USDA Forest Service who was in town last week for PSU's "Health Benefits of Nearby Nature" symposium. Donovan and Roger Ulrich spoke about such topics as whether viewing nature can boost hospital patients' outcomes.
Donovan's work has, among other advances, uncovered evidence that urban trees can reduce crime.
We caught up with Donovan by email to talk greenery, green spaces and Portland itself.
Sustainable Business Oregon: You say urban trees aren't just pretty to look at, they actually make cities survivable. What do you mean by that?
Geoffrey Donovan: I was trying to contrast livability with survivability. When I think of things that make a neighborhood more livable, I think of nice but non-essential stuff: the coffee shop at the end of the street that makes those great muffins, for example. In contrast, my research suggests that trees can have a profound effect on human health. Indeed, in some cases they may literally be a matter of life and death. That’s not something you can say about muffins, and I really like muffins.
SBO: What's the most surprising benefit of urban trees that your research has uncovered?
Donovan: I’ve come up with a few surprising ones. In Portland, I’ve found that trees are associated with lower crime and fewer underweight babies.
SBO: Are there particular types of urban tree plantings or urban green space that provide maximum health care benefits?
Donovan: That’s a great question. There’s been some research on landscape features that people prefer. For example, people like symmetrical patterns of trees (same size and species on both sides of a street). However, as far as I know, there hasn’t been any research linking particular landscape features with health outcomes. It’s a questions I’d like to look into.
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