Urban Forests are Essential to our Quality of Life
From the Nest, Issue 1
by Juby Lee and Jon Davey
Since 2016, Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club have led an initiative called Trees Please. Trees Please collects data on trees and air particulate pollution in the lower city with help from citizen scientists. The team works on finding creative ways to get more native trees planted in urban neighbourhoods.
We do this in a number of ways, including –
- community tree plantings done in partnership with the City of Hamilton’s Forestry & Horticulture Division, and
- Free Tree Giveaways to property owners who volunteer to plant them in their greenspaces as a benefit to the local community.
And, in 2021, we’re working in partnership with the BNA, Green Venture, and the Good Shepherd to depave a section of the parking lot in front of the Venture Centre on Cannon Street East to plant a row of trees.
Our work is centred on improving the urban fabric of downtown Hamilton so that it’s more livable for all of its residents.
Currently, the Trees Please team is very focused on reviewing the City’s draft Urban Forest Strategy. In the draft strategy, the city has indicated that its goal is to increase the current tree canopy coverage from a calculated average of 21.2% to a target of 30%, and that includes trees along our escarpment and urban river valleys like the Red Hill.
That average of 21.2% means that there are some neighbourhoods, like Beasley in downtown Hamilton, that have very low tree canopy coverage, calculated at approximately 12%. Trees Please and its allies want to increase that number, city wide, to 45%.
Why? Because trees provide countless benefits to us as a community and increasing the tree canopy in traditionally undergreened neighbourhoods can drastically improve the quality of life. It can have huge benefits.
These benefits include improving air and water quality, reducing stress on our stormwater infrastructure, and positively impacting our mental health, just to name a few. With fewer trees, the heat island effect amplifies, making us more reliant on expensive air conditioning for cooling which puts those who cannot afford these increased costs in a precarious financial position.
Beasley isn’t the only downtown neighbourhood reckoning with this crisis. Hamilton’s North End, the home to its waterfront community, is seeing a steady loss of trees that will continue to have a huge impact if they’re not promptly replaced. Tear downs and infill development seem to gain approval for tree removals with ease; the redevelopment of Piers 6, 7, and 8 have razed much of the existing canopy; and the trees that once surrounded the Canadian National Railway (CN) shunting yard at Bayfront Park were cut down to make way for the City’s new Public Works building (see the animations and photos below).
Jamesville is another area in the North End, bordering on the Central neighbourhood, that will likely see the loss of most of its tree canopy when the property is eventually developed. While the City says that hope remains for some of the trees around the perimeter of the 2 blocks of the development, many of Jamesville’s more than 100+ trees will be lost to the development (see the image below for an artist’s rendering of the aerial view of the Jamesville development).
Balancing these climate emergency needs for more intensified development within existing urban boundaries and the need to preserve and expand our tree canopy is why we need a bold plan for a greener city and a strategy that supports that vision.
During a climate emergency the City must treat trees as natural infrastructure, just as essential as water, sewers, roads, or bridges. And as the City responds to the emergency by intensifying our development within existing urban boundaries, it must consider how it balances the need to develop with the desire of developers to simply have a “clean slate”, something that would be detrimental to the core’s canopy.
The City will soon be announcing the next round of virtual public engagement sessions to gather public input on the draft Urban Forest Strategy. The Trees Please team is carefully reviewing the draft and we encourage you to do the same. We plan on sharing our perspectives and vision on what the strategy needs to look like. Stay tuned!