Why Trees Matter

Jim Robbins’ recent op-ed piece in the New York Times got a lot of people talking about trees.

The article mentions many of the benefits of trees that we also celebrate here at Green Cities: trees as natural water filters, air filters, shade for the urban heat island, and more. Trees as stress reducers point to a study out of Japan on the practice of “forest bathing” to improve your health. Forest bathing also appeared in an earlier post.

Robbins also talks about the benefits of trees that are only partly-understood, or not understood at all. The complex systems that include trees seem to be constantly revealing more nuances that effect us and the rest of the planet, like the relationship between decomposing tree leaves and ocean plankton.

We have underestimated the importance of trees. . . We take them for granted, but they are a near miracle.

– Jim Robbins

There are so many reasons that trees matter. Thank you to everyone who volunteered this weekend for an Earth Day work party, and we hope you’ll join us again to celebrate and care for trees all year.

It’s National Volunteer Week!

Hello Green Cities, welcome to National Volunteer Week 2012!

While we are pretty much beside ourselves with gratitude for our volunteers every single week, we’re jumping on the bandwagon to take this extra chance to celebrate the people who make Green Cities the program it is.

Thank you volunteers!!

We couldn’t have done it without you. This week, the Green Cities Network is 6 cities strong (welcome Everett!), working on the ground to restore and maintain our public urban greenspaces all over the Puget Sound. Hundreds of acres are in active restoration. Tons of ivy and blackberry have been removed from our parks and natural areas. Thousands of native trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants have been planted.

In 2011, Green Cities Network volunteers donated 100,000 hours to urban natural area restoration! That is amazing. Thank you so much for everything you do to keep our cities healthier, our water and air cleaner, our communities more vibrant! There’s no way we could say it enough, but thank you.

President Obama’s official proclamation encourages you to keep up the good work: “I call upon all Americans to observe this week by volunteering in service projects across our country and pledging to make service a part of their daily lives.” He also waxes poetic on volunteerism in a way that sure strikes a chord with us:

“Service is a lifelong pursuit that strengthens the civic and economic fabric of our Nation. With every hour and every act, our lives are made richer, our communities are drawn closer, and our country is forged stronger by the dedication and generous spirit of volunteers.”

So put two things on your to-do list this week: make a date with a work party coming up in Seattle, Tacoma, Redmond, Kirkland, or Kent. Then, take a minute to bask in the national spotlight, and know that you’re part of something pretty amazing.

“Go outside! It’s good for you!”

While this may be a common phrase used by mothers to get their children out of the house, it turns out Mom was right. From doctors and environmentalists to First Mom Michelle Obama, people from all walks of life are promoting the health benefits of getting outdoors. And if “Because I said so,” isn’t convincing enough logic for you, here are five reasons parks are good for your health:

1) Soak up a little vitamin D. Vitamin D is a super-vitamin that helps support bone health and your immune system. It may also help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer. Sure, you could take vitamin supplements, but doesn’t soaking up some sunshine sound so much more pleasant? It’s just what the doctor ordered.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-d/NS_patient-vitamin

2) Exercise your eyes. Your pupils contract, similar to muscles, when focusing on objects at varying distances. When we’re inside, we tend to focus our eyes directly in front of us—often looking at a computer or TV screen. When we’re in the great outdoors, our eyes have to do a lot more work as we take in our new surroundings. While exercising your eyes won’t necessarily improve your eyesight, strengthening the muscles around your eyes can help relieve the stress of eye strain. http://www.ehow.com/how_2077740_exercise-eye-muscles.html

3) Exercise your body, too! Parks, greenways, and trails enable and encourage people to exercise. Studies reviewed in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed a nearly 50% increase in the frequency of physical activity with the “creation or enhanced access to places for physical activity.” In short, easy access to parks and other places to exercise helps get people moving and leading healthier lifestyles, overall. http://www.eastshorepark.org/HealthBenefitsReport_FINAL_010307.pdf

4) Just five minutes of “green activity” can improve your mood and self-esteem. Researchers at the University of Essex found that as little as five minutes per day of outdoor exercise, such as walking, gardening, or cycling can reduce the risk of mental illness and improve one’s sense of well-being. The researchers found that children and teens, in particular, showed great health benefits from a five-minute dose of “green exercise. http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/02/us-mental-health-green-idUSTRE6401Y620100502

5) Parks help us clean up our messes. Plant roots help improve water quality by metabolizing or trapping pollutants. Plant leaves also trap airborne dust and soot, improving air quality. In cities where the dark surfaces of rooftops, roads, and parking lots create urban heat islands, parks help provide shade and, according to the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture, a mature tree canopy “reduces air temperature by about five to ten degrees.”http://www.planning.org/cityparks/briefingpapers/physicalactivity.htm

Looking for things to do while you’re boosting your health outside? We’ve got a few suggestions… http://www.forterra.org/events