Restoring the Urban Tree Canopy

Restoring the Urban Tree Canopy

Earth Day Network works to make cities green.

Trees sequester carbon, produce shade, improve urban quality of life, reduce energy needed to cool buildings and provide habitat for birds and other natural life, even in urban environments.  Lack of trees and green space and urban tree coverage can lead to extreme heat islands and average temperatures of over 101 degrees! This has huge negative impacts on human health, livability, crime and culture, and requires more carbon emissions to fuel air conditioning. EDN works with partners and funders to restore the urban tree canopy with a focus on underserved communities in the US and internationally.

Through most of history, the human population lived a rural lifestyle and depended on agriculture and hunting for survival. But urbanization has taken over the planet, making trees in cities all the more important.

As of 2010, 80.7 % of Americans lived in urban areas. Today, only 14%  live in rural areas. Globally, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. According the United Nations projections urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, with close to 90 percent of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa. It is expected that 70 percent of the world population will be urban by 2050, and that most urban growth will occur in less developed countries.

Urban forest ecosystems can provide many benefits to cities and communities including energy conservation, contributing to global biodiversity, and maintaining hydrologic and nutrient cycles. Yet these benefits can’t be realized unless urban forests are managed and supported.

According to a national analysis by U.S. Forest Service researchers David Nowak and Eric Greenfield, a 40-60 percent urban tree canopy is attainable under ideal conditions in forested states. Twenty percent in grassland cities and 15 percent in desert cities are realistic baseline targets, with higher percentages possible through greater investment and prioritization.

But the percentage of tree canopy is only one criteria to consider.  A tree canopy comprised of invasive species does not help the environment.  Age and species diversity, condition of trees and equitable distribution across income levels, to name a few, should also be considered. In the US and other countries, poorer urban neighborhoods have fewer trees, while richer neighborhoods have more trees.

Since 2010, Earth Day Network’s Canopy Project has helped restore the US urban tree canopy in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, San Jose, San Diego, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Flint, Atlanta and Baltimore.

To check out all Earth Day Network’s Tree Planting Projects visit our Tree Planting Map.

For more information or to inquire about sponsoring an urban tree planting project, contact


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