October 31, 2020

Science Says that Trees can be Bad for City Air (Seriously).

Trees can be bad for the air. No, really. I’m not kidding.

Well, in some cases, at least.

Recent studies have found that on tree-lined streets with high automobile traffic, trees can actually trap pollutants beneath the canopy, leaving a higher concentration of polluted air for us to breathe than there would be without them.

So, trees are definitely the problem. Not, you know, humans who drive four-plus-seated vehicles, but drive to work taking up only the driver’s seat versus, say, carpooling at the least, or using public transportation or bikes at best.

Sarcasm aside, the findings surrounding tree-trapped air pollution were actually presented so that city planners can be sure to research the right type of tree, ensure proper spacing between them, and consider wind direction when planning and managing urban streets and the trees either slated to be, or already there.

But while we wait for humanity (including myself, because I love exploration and road trips and I cannot yet afford an electric vehicle) to catch up to the logic that maybe we should modify our habits, there’s something I learned about a while back that I found super interesting.

They’re called “City Trees.”

They’re not really trees at all, though. They’re solar-and battery-powered, sensored, self-watering blocks of varied plants and mosses that absorb just short of 300 trees’ worth of various toxins and pollutants from the air.

As if that wasn’t cool enough, the City Tree’s sensors can actually provide scientists with data about the particulates being absorbed in certain neighborhoods so that more action can be taken to help mitigate air pollution in the places that most urgently need it.

In London, England, for example, three City Trees were permanently installed in areas where pollution was known to be particularly high. They’ve also been installed in places like Berlin and Hong Kong.

Sounds to me like city trees might even be a solution on streets where the type of tree and canopy is affecting the air quality beneath it.

I know I’m dreaming, because it’s probably a lot more expensive to install a city tree than it is to just cut an old, beautiful, green tree or two out of the otherwise often gray and brown urban landscape (besides, those pesky tree roots displace important building and municipal pipes and destroy our concrete sidewalks—how rude). But wouldn’t it be lovely to have old-growth trees and good quality air beneath them rather than walking by a large, flattened stump?

Where do you think these should be installed? Write to your local governments and let them know!


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