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Planet Ark has released their newest research into the benefits of trees titled, ‘Adding Trees: A prescription for health, happiness and fulfilment.’ The report found that spending time in nature makes us “healthier, happier, brighter, calmer & closer.”
Research like this makes me feel happy because it confirms what I am trying to do with this blog is correct & that I am on the right path. Trees, green spaces, access to nature & participation in natural surroundings is most definitely a public health issue. In fact, it is a much bigger public health issue than I think is understood by many local councils in Australia. Take these incredible statistics from the report as examples.
Time in nature reduces a person’s chance of –
- developing diabetes by 43%,
- developing cardiovascular disease & stroke by 37% &
- developing depression by 25%.
Diabetes in Australia http://bit.ly/1WhzS2s says –
- “Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes.
- 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. That’s one person every five minutes.
- The total annual cost impact of diabetes in Australia estimated at $14.6 billion.
- For every person diagnosed with diabetes there is usually a family member or carer who also ‘lives with diabetes’ every day in a support role. This means that an estimated 2.4 million Australians are affected by diabetes every day.”
The Heart Foundation http://bit.ly/25enK7N says –
- “Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death in Australia, with 43,603 deaths attributed to CVD in Australia in 2013.
- Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke & blood vessel diseases) kills one Australian every 12 minutes.
- CVD was the main cause for 518,563 hospitalisations in 2012/13 & played an additional role in another 680,000 hospitalisations.”
A paper by Heart Disease Research Australia http://bit.ly/29Qgs3b says –
- “In 2010 Coronary Heart Disease had a financial burden of $5.1b & a burden of disease cost of $13.3b. Total economic cost of $18.3b.
- Number of Australians dying from repeat heart attacks is expected to increase by over 40% (across all age groups) by 2020.”
The Submission to the Commission of Audit from the National Heart Foundation of Australia 2013 http://bit.ly/29N6QoD found that –
- “Physical inactivity is a major health problem in its own right.
- 54% of Australian adults are not physically active.
- Physical inactivity costs …. an estimated $1.5 billion a year, causes 16,000 premature deaths a year, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon & breast cancer & is a critical factor in Australia’s obesity epidemic, with more than half of all Australian adults being overweight or obese.”
For me it is much more enjoyable to be physically active in a lovely leafy park & along leafy green streets. Improving the outlook of both our parks & streets by adding more trees to create more shade will encourage the community to walk, instead of instantly going for their air-conditioned car.
If walking can help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon & breast cancer & obesity, should not the outlook of the parks & transforming the streetscapes be a priority for local councils?
Beyond Blue http://bit.ly/1gRLoHG says –
- “Depression costs the Australian economy approximately $12.6 billion per year and accounts for up to six million working days of lost productivity.” You can add further costs (monetary, lost productivity, personal & social) to others who are connected in some way to the depressed person.
If my calculations are correct the costs of just these these diseases in Australia is a minimum of $47 billion every year.
Alcohol & other drug use, often connected to depression, also has a massive financial impact in the workplace & on the economy in terms of loss of productivity, absenteeism, mistakes & accidents in the workplace. Then there are the social impacts & costs, which are vast.
If alcohol & other drug use in Australia was factored in, you could add $55.2 billion bringing the costs to a total of 102.2 billion every year.
The $55.2 billion comes from a 2008 report by Collins & Lapsley for health costs in 2004–2005. Alcohol & other drug use in Australia seems to have accelerated since then, so we could reasonably expect the costs to be higher.
I wonder how much it would cost to increase the urban forest canopy in all metropolitan suburbs that had a poor or medium canopy, install aerial bundled cabling where needed & create green leafy parks, shopping strips & small green spaces. I doubt the cost would come anywhere near $47 billion annually & most certainly not 102.2 billion every year.
Preventative health care is cheaper in the long run. If trees, beautiful streetscapes & leafy shopping strips help make the community healthier & happier, why isn’t it being done to the degree that is needed by the bulk of our local councils? To me it shows there needs to be a significant culture change toward trees in many areas in Sydney & undoubtedly in many areas in other cities. Step 1: allocate significantly more to the annual budget for trees, streetscapes & parks.
There also needs to be a culture change when it comes to getting people to want to go outdoors & spend time in nature. We live in a very fast paced world these days & the temptation to veg out watching television or playing internet games is strong.
Our kids do not have contact with nature like we did when I was a child. In the research report there is a term – “outdoor illiterate.” I think it is a brilliant way to describe the consequences for children who spend very little time outdoors.
Today I saw something unusual in that a gum boot wearing toddler was splashing around in a puddle at the markets. Her mum was enjoying watching her daughter having a good time.
The report found that children of today spend the bulk of their time inside on level floor surfaces. As a consequence of this lifestyle it has been found that “Australian children cannot walk confidently and & skillfully in outdoor environs; they are unfamiliar with uneven ground, crossing rivers or negotiating steep hilly terrain (Stone, 2009).” How sad is that. Outside is becoming an issue too with more concrete paths being added to our parks.
It makes me wonder what are the implications for children’s ability to age well? Flexibility & balance become increasingly important as one gets older. Falling due to poor balance often results in a broken hip, necessitating surgery, lengthy rehabilitation & unfortunately for many, a one way journey to live out the rest of their lives in a nursing home. Are we setting up children to have more problems earlier when they get older?
“The message is urgent: unplug, boot it down, get off-line, get outdoors, breathe again, become real in the real world.” ~ David Orr.
Not just children, but adults too. Technology is great, but not if it comes at the cost of our children not being able to walk properly & people of all ages being sick, unhappy or chronically depressed.
Living in a city is great too, but again, not if we have poor green spaces, or too few green spaces or crowded green spaces that focus on providing organized entertainment with little or no space for peaceful reflection & down time.
A May 2016 article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled, ‘Sydney’s green spaces to get squeezed as city’s population swells’ http://ow.ly/lVbw30016R7 said –
- “Over the next 15 years the amount of total open space per person in the city is expected to shrink by more than 20 per cent, from 18.3 square metres a head to 14.4 square metres by 2036.” Our courtyard is larger than this!
- “By that stage the Sydney local government area will be home to an extra 81,000 people, up from 200,000 now.” And this is just the City of Sydney.
In the mid-1990s, Pyrmont had a population of around 1,000 people. This has ballooned to more than 15,000 & the suburb is unrecognizable, at least from across the water at White Bay.
In the article, the demand for playing fields is deemed unachievable & so suggests that the way to provide what is needed is to install synthetic playing fields – so we will even lose the grass.
How the birds like magpies, galahs & little corellas who rely on these spaces will cope, I do not know, but the reality is, wildlife doesn’t feature much when local councils want to install synthetic turf. Locally, you just need to look at Arlington Reserve to see this. It all happened against fierce community opposition & at the same time as the light rail station was being built in an area where listed as ‘endangered’ Long-nosed Bandicoots were thought to live.
How did these animals cope when two green areas of habitat close to each other were being torn apart & redeveloped? I think the attitude is that birds/animals will move on, but increasingly it is becoming an issue of “where to?” The declining numbers of common native birds like the magpie is proof they are not adjusting to the loss of green space.
I don’t know about you, but a big part of my nature / green space experience is birds. I like to see them. I like to look at them & I especially like to hear them. As I ride around Marrickville & surrounds, I often pass through deadly quiet streets. There are poor street trees, or few street trees & very few trees in gardens. As a consequence, there seems to be a lack of birds. That or they are all sleeping when I ride past.
How do you keep a population happy & healthy if there is little green space & where wildlife doesn’t feature much?
I’ve already written too much & have barely touched on the findings of the report, so will post Part 2 soon. It’s a brilliant report & certainly got me thinking.
In my last post I showed an old photo of mine of an Illawarra flame tree in Marrickville. It is one of my favourite trees in this street. When it flowers it is magnificent.
Yesterday I drove past this very tree & noticed something that made me happy. Marrickville Council, before being amalgamated, had organised with the power company Ausgrid, to protect this tree by installing aerial bundled cables on either side of the canopy. The before & after photos appear that the tree wasn’t pruned to install the cables.
Now this gorgeous tree can continue to grow & be a landmark tree in this area, without needing to be pruned in the manner that has become usual for street trees in Sydney.
A big thanks from me to both Marrickville Council for organizing & I presume paying for the cabling to be installed & to Ausgrid for doing this. I think it was money well spent.
In 2015 Melbourne City Council allocated each of their 77,000 public trees an email address. It was intended that people could report vandalism or trees that were in a severe state of decline. Instead the trees were inundated with love letters.
By July 2015 over 3,000 emails concerning the city’s trees were received. These were sent not only by citizens of Melbourne, but also tourists from all around the world who wanted to express their love for Melbourne’s trees. Melbourne City Council were surprised at the positive response toward the urban forest, though I think the response is understandable because many streetscapes in Melbourne are phenomenally beautiful. Perhaps it is that you become used to what you see every day.
The City of Melbourne also has an online interactive map of their urban forest. This map provides all kinds of information about the urban forest from individual trees to whole precincts & plans for the future. See – http://bit.ly/1xPGgwJ
To me this shows that Melbourne City Council is very sure of their plans for the future & confident of public scrutiny.
The online interactive map also has a great educational aspect, allowing anyone, including schools, to find out more about their urban forest. They even have an opportunity for people to become citizen urban foresters to “become an advocate for planning issues affecting trees in your area.” Wow! That is commitment to working with the community! I am impressed.
Twelve months on & the City of Knoxville in the USA have picked up this initiative. The canopy in Knoxville is around 40%. All the trees are covered by the Tree Inventory & available to see on an online interactive map. Each tree has information about the species, its history & features.
Each tree has an email address that allows citizens to write an email to the tree addressing any concerns they may have. The email goes directly to a Knoxville urban forester who will read the email & reply back on behalf of the tree.
The idea is that the community help the Department of Urban Forestry to manage the urban forest by reporting things happening with trees that the council may not know about until it develops into a problem.
“It shows the commitment the city’s got to the urban forest,” said Arborist Daniel Laine & I would agree with him. What will be interesting is whether the Knoxville trees receive love letters, as happened in Melbourne.
Well done to both these councils. I think this initiative is excellent & one that includes the community in their urban forest beyond a once-off consultation about the Urban Forest Policy is always preferable in the long-run.
Times change. The demographics change & so do attitudes concerning trees. Having interactive engagement programs like this allows the community to have more of a voice as to how their streetscapes look. Importantly, the benefits for learning about our local environment are huge & the potential for schools is also vast.
The article about Knoxville comes with a short news video. What I find of interest is the leafy outlook of their public spaces. It is worth a look. See – http://on.wbir.com/28V68XM
The US Forest Service & University of California have released a study in the Urban Forestry & Urban Greening titled, ‘Structure, function and value of street trees in California, USA.’ See – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866715301400
The study of 929,823 street trees across 50 cities in California found that –
- The street tree asset value is US$2.49-billion.
- The street trees provide annual services valued at US$1 billion or US$110.63 per tree.
- The street trees remove 567,748 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. This is equivalent to taking 120,000 cars off the road & valued at US$10-million.
- Energy savings provided by the street trees was US$101-million.
- Flood protection was valued at US$41.5 million.
- Pollution removal was valued at US$18-million.
- There was a US$5.82 benefit for every US$1 spent.
- Finally, property values were increased by a whopping US$839-million.
So with these statistics clearly showing the multiple benefits provided by street trees, you would think the cities would be green. In reality the street tree canopy across California cities has dropped 30% with 16-million vacant planting sites. It seems that trees that died or removed were not replaced & therefore the community has lost much of the benefits provided by the street trees.
In 2012 the US Forest Service found that the urban forest canopy was falling in 20 US cities, plus an increase of hard surfaces.
The last research done in Australia that I am aware of was released in 2014 by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology. That research looked at the canopy cover in cities & in 139 of Australia’s municipalities across Australia, home to 68% of the population.
In Sydney, Pittwater & Hornsby Shire Council lead with a canopy cover of 59%. Warringah Council followed closely with 58%.
In 2014 Marrickville municipality had a cover of 16.3% & the highest percentage of hard surfaces at 63.4%.
Our neighbours (now amalgamated into one big council area) saw Ashfield with a canopy cover of 19.8% & 57.4% hard surfaces & Leichhardt with a higher canopy cover of 20.3%, &
but also with a the highest percentage of hard surfaces at 59.8%.
It will be interesting to see if the old Marrickville LGA will get an increase in public trees to come into line with the old Leichhardt LGA & how long this will take.
You can download the 202020 Vision pdf document here – http://202020vision.com.au/media/7141/final-report_140930.pdf
I love memorial trees. To me they represent life, beauty & a celebration of the life of the person who has passed. I know that memorial trees are very healing for people who have lost someone they love.
I am excited to see that finally we can choose to have our cremated remains become part of a new living tree, but only in Victoria at the moment. Let’s hope this concept spreads Australia-wide.
The Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust in Melbourne is introducing ‘The Living Legacy’ program at all of its nineteen Melbourne cemeteries. The program will allow people to have their cremated ashes turned into fertilizer. See – http://bit.ly/1Tq1Oin
“The product will be incorporated into the root ball of existing trees so the person who has passed literally becomes part of the tree.” How lovely is that.
Not only will one tree be planted to commemorate the death of a person – “a further 200 will be donated to create urban forests in cities in Australia & overseas.”
The trees will be planted by
The trees planted in Australia will be planted by ‘Greenfleet’ an Australian non-profit environmental organization. Greenfleet also have a carbon offset program where you can donate to have your carbon footprint offset with new trees planted in reforestation projects around Australia. See – http://bit.ly/15RsP9A
Melbourne man Warren Roberts came up with the idea of ‘The Living Legacy’ program after the death of his best friend. “He said he was not able to properly grieve her death for years until he spent time out in gardens, parks and forests, which was when he came up with the idea.”
Because cremated ashes are toxic to plants Mr Roberts spoke to a number of experts. He met & formed a professional relationship with scientist Dr Mary Cole who, over a period of two years, developed a method to transform cremated remains into fertilizer & the concept became a reality.
Not only will this program help grieving people. It will also help reforest Australia, provide habitat for wildlife & help mitigate climate change. Another bonus is that Australia’s cemeteries are running out of space.
Costa Georgiadis, host of ABC’s TVs ‘Gardening Australia’ is the ambassador for ‘The Living Legacy’ program. He says, “If we can connect with the longevity of trees, then the baton that we hand to the next generation is spiritually significant.” I like that.
Today I learnt that trees go to sleep. Collaborative research by scientists from Austria, Finland & Hungary used infrared laser scanners to study whether there were any changes in trees from day to night.
“Our results show that the whole tree droops during night which can be seen as position change in leaves and branches ….. The changes are not too large, only up to 10 cm for trees with a height of about 5 meters, but they were systematic and well within the accuracy of our instruments.”
The researchers want to do more work to look at trees water use throughout the 24-hour cycle.
More here – http://bit.ly/1TncrkP
Kudos to Burwood Council for attaching a large metal yellow sign saying, “This tree was vandalised” on a street tree in Claremont Road Burwood Heights. The ten-metre trunk has had all branches removed for safety & just left there.
I assume Burwood Council has left the tree in situ so not to reward the vandal by removing the tree. Every day this tree trunk & sign is seen by hundreds of people who drive by, further educating the public. It is hard to catch tree vandals, but not too hard to make them live with their actions.
Claremont Road has a number of beautiful tall trees that look wonderful. I think they are Tallowwood trees (Eucalyptus microcorys). This one stands alone – a poor sentinel to the ignorance & selfishness of someone in the community. I hope they & others like them come to understand the benefit of trees for the whole community sooner rather than later. Everyone loses when public trees are vandalised. You don’t need to be living close to the tree to be impacted.
Researchers from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research at the University of Sydney have released their review into the health impact of tiny air pollution particles, also known as particulate matter. They found that most particulate matter is man-made & “could lead to increase in people reporting to hospitals with respiratory or cardiovascular effects.”
This supports 2010 research done by the US Health Effects Institute who reviewed 700 worldwide health-pollution studies. They found:
- traffic pollution within a 500-metre radius of a major thoroughfare is likely to exacerbate asthma in children.
- trigger new asthma cases across all ages
- impair lung function in adults &
- could cause cardiovascular illness & death. See – http://bit.ly/1MKStR8
The researchers from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research recommended that immediate steps be taken to reduce particulate matter pollution from the air. Although particulate matter can come from plant & animal matter, the majority comes from motor vehicles, mining, power stations & even coal fire barbeques & wood heaters.
“On high pollution days we may detect extra cases of stroke, other myocardial infarctions, heart attacks, for instance, and also PM (particulate matter) air pollution has been linked to premature mortality….. So it will bring forward those few extra deaths – particularly, we think, in more vulnerable people such as the elderly.” See http://ab.co/1RP6teY
However, this study from the Lancaster Environment Centre has shown that –
- “increasing deposition by the planting of vegetation in street canyons can reduce street-level concentrations in those canyons by as much as 40% for nitrogen dioxide & 60% for particulate matter.
- Deposition rates of nitrogen dioxide & particulate matter to vegetation are much higher than those to hard, built surfaces.
- Substantial street-level air quality improvements can be gained through action at the scale of a single street canyon or across city-sized areas of canyons.
- Vegetation will continue to offer benefits in the reduction of pollution even if the traffic source is removed from city centers.” See – http://bit.ly/1UMfVQV
And, “The efficacy of roadside trees for mitigation of PM [particulate matter] health hazard might be seriously underestimated in some current atmospheric models.”
The ability to lower particulate matter is in the power of human beings. Stop using coal power stations, drive less, ride bicycles & catch public transport more & don’t use coal-fired barbeques or burn wood for heating.
We can plant a tree on our property if there is space & create a verge garden on the street. We can also lobby our local councils to increase the urban forest, as the Lancaster research clearly demonstrated a drop of 60% for particulate matter between the street & the row of terrace houses & these were only small Birch trees in pots. Imagine what a good canopy mature street tree can do for us all in cleaning up the air.
Researchers continue to clearly show us that trees are good for people in a myriad of ways. Our mental health & happiness levels, our ability to learn & our respiratory & cardiac health are just some benefits trees bring.
A Sydney Red gum is the latest tree to be poisoned for views in Carradah Park in Larkin Street Waverton. This is despite the effort to which North Sydney Council went to work with the community to choose suitable planting sites for the trees.
Nature-hating vandals have killed 19 of 20 trees planted in 2004 in this park. That is phenomenal disrespect for the trees, the environment, the rate-payers & their neighbours.
It is wonderful to see a local council take tree vandalism seriously. No namby-pamby utterances like, “this is a disgrace” & then quietly chopping down the vandalised tree to replace with the hope that the new tree is not vandalised or worse – giving in to the vandal & not planting a replacement tree at all.
I applaud North Sydney Council for taking action that strongly affirms the community’s disapproval of tree vandalism.
They have installed a big ugly sign in eye-catching red black & white with large letters saying, “WARNING. Trees in this area have been willfully destroyed by selfish vandals.” The sign goes on to offer a $10,000 reward for information & also warns that if convicted, the vandal faces a fine of up to $1.1 million.
The council has also left the dead trees in-situ. Let the vandal look at the great view through a big ugly red, black & white sign & a dead tree. I can guarantee this irks their sensibilities every time the look out over the glorious view of Sydney Harbour. I hope the council doesn’t cave in when requests start to come in to remove the sign & the dead trees. To have meaning, both should stay for years. Dead trees can be made safe & they offer enormous benefits to wildlife, so there is not reason not to retain them.
You can read the article & see a photo of tree & sign here –http://bit.ly/1Ku8GJI
The news has been very tree-orientated in the last few days with Greg Hunt the Federal Environment Minister announcing that the government will have a vision for improved urban tree coverage within 18-months. See – http://bit.ly/1KvzEuO
The federal government’s plan for cities is to increase the urban canopy every decade to 2050 to “reduce heat within city environments and improve health outcomes.”
“Green cities — cities with high levels of trees, foliage and green spaces — provide enormous benefits to their residents. Increasing urban canopy coverage decreases heat, which improves health and quality of life.”
Finally the urban canopy is being acknowledged as a health issue! Recent research has found an increase in respiratory & cardiac illness with more fatal cardiac arrests in areas with a poor canopy. Add increased depression & obesity & you have an unhealthy, unhappy community, which ultimately has a cost on all of the community.
Unless there is a change of culture, I believe these problems will only increase with the current trend of high-rise housing with little or no green space or access to peaceful green space, as many of our parks are being transformed into entertainment areas. Therefore, an Australia-wide initiative driven by the federal government to increase the urban forest canopy can only be applauded. We can have high-rise & green space. Green walls & green roofs can be incorporated into new designs just as easily as a pool for example.
The federal government’s announcement might be alarming for those state governments which are removing trees at a fierce rate in the push for development. In Sydney alone 400 trees, many of them large Fig trees that are iconic to Sydney are being removed in Randwick for the eastern suburbs light rail project. This is despite Randwick Council saying that the light rail line can travel the same route without removing the trees. A whopping 760 trees will be removed along the entire light rail route.
The NSW government’s response to criticism about the tree loss has been that eight new trees will be planted for every tree removed. Sounds good, but I will watch with interest at what species of tree is planted, how many survive & what the canopy looks like in a decade. I highly doubt the canopy will ever look like it did in the beginning of December 2015.
Even closer to Marrickville LGA is Sydney Park at St Peters where 350 trees are being removed to establish a construction depot for the WestConnex Motorway. See – http://bit.ly/1OpHg63. It seems that trees & green spaces are fair game for development, even when there are other options. Bushland at Wolli Creek is also threatened for WestConnex. The most expedient & cheapest way is to remove trees, yet the impact of doing so has far reaching consequences on both the community & the wildlife.
Then there is the 10/50 Code that allows for any tree to be removed within 10-metres of a home & remove underlying vegetation within 50-metres of a home without seeking approval because of bushfire risk. The North Shore & Pittwater areas of Sydney have been losing trees like they have no meaning. The 10/50 Code offers a giant loophole for landowners to remove trees for any reason they like & according to Lane Cove Council, bushfire risk in the area is minimal. Still their urban forest has been decimated.
Globally 2015 was the hottest year since records started. 2011 to 2015 have been the hottest 5-year period world-wide since records started. Sydney is expected to be like living in Rockhampton in subtropical Queensland by the turn of the century. See – http://bit.ly/1DM40tk Therefore, what is planted also needs to be taken into consideration if local councils want the trees to survive more than a few years.
Part of greening our cities, which also includes suburbs, requires a culture-shift of the community itself. Many areas of Sydney are defined by their trees – the North Shore, Pittwater, Eastwood area & Sutherland Shire as examples. Then there are suburbs with few trees, both public & private.
I think it may be a battle for a while until the prevailing attitude towards trees changes. To change public perception of trees, the government will need to embark on a strong multi-media education program. Twice in the past week I passed individuals in Marrickville who were casually pruning street trees into small stumps with no canopy. That they do this in broad daylight shows that they believe that it is their right to do so & that they have little care or no conception that the street tree belongs to the whole community.
With luck, tree vandalism will become a rare occurrence, street trees will be planted in better conditions & the community will embrace the care of the tree by watering it while it is establishing & also during dry periods.
What will be wonderful in my opinion is that large canopy trees will become the norm because it is these trees that provide the most benefit & utility in cooling the streets & also in carbon sequestration. It is also these types of trees that the federal government is talking about. I will be very pleased to see spindly street trees only used in spaces where there is no room for anything larger.
I will also enjoy the resultant beauty along our streetscapes when trees become more of a feature than buildings & where landscaping is used more often than concrete. Green walls & green roofs will be wonderful as well.
Lastly, greening our suburbs will bring wildlife in & support wildlife already here. Instead of the constant noise of traffic & planes, we will listen to white noise of bird song during the day & crickets & frogs at dusk. I know this to be true because the simple addition of some native trees & an under-storey has brought much wildlife to out place, whereas it was almost bereft when we moved in.
We have to change as individuals & as communities. Local Councils need to change as well. Much needs to be tossed out of current tree policies if they do not support increasing the canopy or the tree species chosen & placement does little to lower the urban heat island effect. I suspect local councils will rapidly get on board with federal government directives, but I fear some in the community may find it hard to embrace an environment full of trees. We all have much to gain from a greener environment, from large canopy trees, to areas of under-storey filled with shrubs & plants & grasses & from being able to walk around without dashing from patch of shade to patch of shade.
Climate change will demand that everyone cooperates with the greening of our cities or we will suffer, cause our community to suffer & make it unlivable for future generations.