More Green Space in Cities Linked to Drop in Premature Deaths

And planting trees in the poorest areas of cities yields the biggest health improvements.

Palm trees line a San Bernardino street that seemingly stretches to snow-capped peaks. (Courthouse News photo/Chris Marshall)

(CN) — Adding tree canopy to cities could prevent premature deaths and provide billions of dollars of economic benefit, according to research revealed Monday.

In a study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health, scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Barcelona Institute for Global Health detailed the impact of increasing green spaces in cities and the benefits they provide.

Using previous research, the researchers ran a health impact assessment on the city of Philadelphia to determine what would happen if more green spaces were created. They discovered that increasing tree coverage to 30% of the city by 2025 would prevent 403 premature adult deaths, about 3% of the city’s annual mortality.

“Achieving this goal does not come without challenges. Large tree planting initiatives are faced with many problems, including losses from climate change, tree pests and invasive species, and urban development,” said Michelle Kondo, first author of the study.

Even more moderate increases in tree canopy at 5% and 10% could save 271 and 376 lives, respectively.

“Although every city has its own characteristics, this study provides an example for all the cities in the world: many lives can be saved by increasing trees and greening urban environments, even at modest levels” said Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of ISGlobal’s Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative.

Philadelphia, the poorest of the 10 biggest cities in the United States with a mortality rate higher than average, could stand to greatly benefit from increased green spaces, the scientists said.

“Many of the deaths prevented would be in the poorest areas of the city, even with a moderate increase in the number of trees,” Kondo said.

She said going green could help those in poorer neighborhoods the most.

“Urban reforestation programs are not only essential for improving public health, they are also a way to reduce health inequities and promote environmental justice,” she said.

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