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When it comes to a commitment to care for greenspaces in the nation's leading cities, conservation organization American Forests has found that Charlotte is doing much better than others.
Through a combination of an in-depth survey, independent data and a vote by a blue-ribbon panel of leading urban forest experts, the nonprofit has named the 10 best U.S. cities for urban forests: Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
American Forests defines urban forests as "ecosystems of trees and other vegetation in and around communities that may consist of street and yard trees, vegetation within parks and along public rights of way and water systems. Urban forests provide communities with environmental, economic and social benefits and habitat for fish and wildlife."
The project, funded by the U.S. Forest Service, found that while many cities are working to improve their green infrastructure, top-ranked cities, like Charlotte, have made prolonged investments in the health of their urban forest, as well as benefited from active nonprofit and community participation in improving and maintaining the city's environmental resources. Charlotte recognizes that trees don't just provide aesthetic value, they also help in a number of other ways, including increasing property values, reducing energy costs and lowering medical costs by improving human health.
It's estimated that the aesthetic value of Charlotte's urban trees, impacting things like property values, provides the city with $2.76 million in benefits. In addition, Charlotte's trees provide more than $900,000 in energy savings annually and $2.1 million in stormwater controls.
"Many cities across the U.S. are doing great work to care for their urban forests," says Scott Steen, American Forests CEO and member of the judging panel. "In Charlotte, the city government, citizen groups and nonprofits have banded together to improve the community's urban forest through initiatives on both public and private land. The city has taken the lead on establishing clear goals for its urban forest to improve Charlotte and the well-being of its residents."
American Forests worked with a panel of urban forest experts from a broad range of scientific and urban resources disciplines to identify the best urban forests from the 50 most populous U.S. cities. The panel, which included technical advisors from the U.S. Forest Service, looked at independent data and American Forests' survey responses from local urban forest professionals and community forestry nonprofits. The panel identified the best cities using the following criteria:
• The degree to which there is strong civic engagement between the city, nonprofits, community groups and individuals in maintaining the urban forest. • The degree to which the city has developed and implemented urban forest strategies to address issues and challenges such as energy conservation, stormwater and recreation. • The accessibility of urban forest and greenspaces to the public, including percentage of park land per capita. • The overall health and condition of the city's urban forest. • Each city's documented knowledge of its tree canopy, tree species diversity and age class range. • The status of urban forest management plans and other important management activities, such as tree canopy goals and ordinances.
One of the reasons American Forests undertook this project, according to Steen, is to showcase the tangible value that urban forests provide to cities and their residents, including economic, aesthetic, social and physical well-being. Various studies have shown a correlation between trees and lower rates of crime, reduced levels of stress and lower body mass.