March 30, 2022

No Shade, No Gains

Written by

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now”. 

Trees are complex beautiful things that provide us benefits we may take for granted without realizing it. They are mighty carbon warriors who take in excess carbon out of the atmosphere and in turn oxygenate our earth. Trees are also great creators of shade, our protectors against the sun’s rays when it gets too much. Shade from tree canopy, however, is not distributed equitably here in Salt Lake City and the effects are substantially felt on the west side. At TreeUtah we are working to plant more trees each year through our West Side Initiative. All people have a right to nature and we are initiating change by planting trees.

The inaccessibility of tree canopy coverage in an urban environment inevitably leads to consequences from the heat island effect. The heat island effect is not new, but as we increasingly urbanize now and in years down the line, areas will experience higher overall temperatures (up to 25 degrees Fahrenheit more during the hottest afternoons) if greenspace is not prioritized and dark surfaces like asphalt and buildings become more dominant.

Adding trees into spaces, however, will mitigate a common concern in urban areas which is ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone is a harmful pollutant made from the interaction of the sun, volatile organic compounds found in common household products, and nitrogen oxide from car exhaust. Experiencing hotter days because of climate change and the urban heat island certainly does not help our ground-level ozone levels. With one of the benefits of trees being that they lower air pollution, trees are one solution to improve ground-level ozone and help individuals who are medically sensitive or who may be prone to suffer from illnesses correlated to bad air quality. 

Adding things like trees in areas will also foster a sense of place and belonging for individuals because of bringing people together in outdoor spaces that seem more inviting. For further info on the social, environmental, and economic benefits provided to us each day by trees, check out our about page.

Not that long ago, the pandemic started to change the way we work. With workplace culture increasingly switching to remote, people are gravitating toward spending more time outside and participating in outdoor activities. However, we cannot reap the ultimate benefits from these experiences if basic things such as tree cover and green space are lacking. These benefits that trees provide us like improving air quality, helping the heat island, along with the change in our time spent in nature, all build up to why trees are so important in planting equitably on the streets and in places like Title I schools. Our West Side Initiative coincides with Mayor Mendenhall’s four year plan of planting an additional 1,000 trees just on the west side of Salt Lake City each year. Keep your eye out for our next community tree planting on the west side by keeping up to date on our events