Elm Park in Worcester. Image by heytampa on flickr.

By Derek Lirange
New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill staff

Part of  Worcester Tree Initiative’s role at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill is to advance the nonprofit organization’s goal of connecting people and plants beyond the gates of New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill. We work to highlight the importance of urban greening in cities and towns. We promote the importance of the community forest, gardens and other vegetation within a city or town, from streetscape to conservation land. Most recently, we presented to Worcester’s Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Disabilities to talk about how to create green spaces in our often grey landscape that benefit and accommodate everyone.

In both meetings WTI spoke about the impact the community forest has on our lives and the inequity in which this life giving resource is distributed. Trees in a neighborhood improve livability, property value, and community interactions. They also reduce stress, crime rates, and the incidence of certain diseases like heat exhaustion and asthma. Trees help to reduce heat in the summer and slow heat wicking winds in winter. Consequently, the absence of vegetation is often a blight to an urban or suburban area.

We were also able to show, through research we had conducted, that our most densely populated and often poorest neighborhoods were precisely where vegetation was most greatly lacking. This may not be surprising, where there are more people there are typically more buildings and other hardscape to serve those people, which doesn’t lend itself to planting. But these are also the places where the presence of such life giving vegetation would do the greatest good for the most people.

WTI did not come with resolutions in hand or policies to pass. We presented this information in hopes of teaching people that trees have a public health value that goes far beyond ornamental beauty. Our hope is to encourage all communities to preserve and increase their community’s green spaces.

Derek Lirange is a community forester with the Worcester Tree Initiative, a department of New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill in Boylston, Mass.