Probably one of the best aspects of living in Stockton is the city’s trees. Stockton was once named “Best Tree City” by Sunset magazine and at one time planted 2,500 new trees each year. Sadly, I think Stockton’s trees are also taken for granted. Everyone knows that our trees provide for pleasant streets in older neighborhoods and great shade in the scorching summer months, but, perhaps unexpectedly, trees also offer a tremendous economic benefit, both to property owners and to the city overall.
To cities, trees turn out to be invaluable economic assets. In Tennessee, a report by the US Forestry Service in Tennessee found that the state’s urban trees accounted for more than $638 million in benefits, stemming from carbon storage, water filtration, and savings in energy costs. A similar study on Stockton’s trees does not exist, that I am aware of, but with over 140,000 trees, I would wager that the city sees similar economic benefit from having such an extensive canopy. Without Stockton’s considerable number of trees, we would see greater pollution in the Delta, smoggier air and higher energy costs.
While trees clearly provide economic benefits to the city overall, it turns out that trees can also raise the sales price of a home. A study conducted in New Kensington, Pennsylvania by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found a positive correlation between home sales and trees. From 1995 to 2002, the city of New Kensington embarked on an ambitious plan to revitalize neighborhoods through a comprehensive tree planting strategy, and the effects of this plan on property values were captured by the researchers. In this study, researchers found that, all else being equal, planting a tree within 50 feet of a house can increase the value by around 9%. Furthermore, houses within a quarter mile of a park had increases in value of about 10%.
More recent studies back up the results of the New Kensington study. In Portland, a 2010 report revealed that properties with trees in front added more than $7,000 to that property’s sales price. The study also found that trees add the most value, $8,870, to be exact, when they are not directly on the property, showing that neighborhoods with trees planted by the city in planting strips on sidewalks bring in the most value.
What is the lesson here? While homeowners can plant trees on their property to increase its value, the real benefits come from neighborhoods that are designed around public tree landscaping and parks. Having a tree on the property is great, but the data shows that people take into account the maintenance that comes with the tree. Where we see real increases in property value is when the city takes the initiative to landscape areas with trees and plan for parks nearby.
Sadly, Stockton is headed in the opposite direction. Sprawling subdivisions, in their rush to squeeze in as many houses as possible during the housing boom, generally neglected to incorporate significant green spaces. Growing up in North Stockton, there was not a park for miles for me to go to. For Stockton’s established areas, budget issues have forced the city to cut back on maintenance, leaving the city’s mature trees vulnerable to invasive mistletoe, pests and generally harsh conditions. As a result, Stockton is in real danger of losing thousands of trees that could have otherwise been kept healthy. And it’s not just Stockton; tree cover appears to be on the decline in cities nationwide.
The good news is, this is something Stocktonians can help fight against, and to a large extent, already are. Neighborhoods have the ability to organize their own landscape assessment districts where money is collected from residents to fund tree maintenance (See Michael Fitzgerald’s column from late last year). Understanding why our trees are important is the first step towards doing something to try and preserve them and expand the city’s canopy. Our trees not only provide an economic benefit, they also help give Stockton its character and hopefully, residents don’t allow the city’s financial woes to spell the demise of our urban forest.