by Pete Mazzaccaro

In a front-page story this week, writer Kevin Dicciani relates the current state of a Chestnut Hill project to plant trees in Chestnut Hill. The effort, which has raised more than $54,000 and looks to plant 60 trees along the Avenue and side streets of the neighborhood, is a joint project of the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, Chestnut Hill Community Association and the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District.

It’s a suitable project for Chestnut Hill, a neighborhood that’s not only named after a tree but is also the official “garden district” of the City of Philadelphia. It’s a neighborhood known for trees, for its proximity to the Wissahickon and prominent florists and tree experts. If there’s a green neighborhood in Philadelphia, this is it.

Most of us instinctively like trees. And we like to have them on our streets. I’ve been in old medieval cities in Europe, which can be breathtaking for their architecture, but rough for the lack of greenery. There’s no shade. No spring blooms. Nothing to look at besides the stone walls and sidewalks.

We know we like to look at trees. And we know we like their shade, but trees in residential neighborhoods and in urban shopping blocks are a bigger benefit than you might guess. Trees save energy, improve property values, boost business and benefit our mental health.

The Arbor Day Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to greening the planet, has an interesting collection of facts about the benefits of street trees. Among the long list are the following:

• The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten-room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. – U.S. Department of Agriculture

• In one study, 83 percent of Realtors believe that mature trees have a “strong or moderate impact” on the saleability of homes listed for under $150,000; on homes over $250,000, this perception increases to 98 percent. – Arbor National Mortgage & American Forests

• Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20-50 percent in energy used for heating. – USDA Forest Service

• Trees can be a stimulus to economic development, attracting new business and tourism. Commercial retail areas are more attractive to shoppers, apartments rent more quickly, tenants stay longer, and space in a wooded setting is more valuable to sell or rent. – The Arbor Day Foundation

• The planting of trees means improved water quality, resulting in less runoff and erosion. This allows more recharging of the ground water supply. Wooded areas help prevent the transport of sediment and chemicals into streams. – USDA Forest Service

• In laboratory research, visual exposure to settings with trees has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension. – Dr. Roger S. Ulrich Texas A&M University

Given the above, and the many other facts and studies related to street trees, it’s hard to imagine any other simple thing you could do that beats planting a tree. Be sure to read Dicciani’s piece this week and consider giving to the fund to Re-Tree Chestnut Hill. It’s more important than you probably thought it was.