New Survey Highlights Chicago’s Relationship with Trees

Lydia Scott is the Director of the Chicago Region Tree Initiative for The Morton Arboretum

Chicago and its seven surrounding counties have more than 150 million trees, which make our area’s communities healthier, more sustainable and more beautiful.  But the trees that grow in the Chicago area are under serious threat, with one of every five Chicago area parkway trees likely to soon be destroyed by the emerald ash borer beetle.1 

But do Chicagoans notice our city’s trees when we’re passing by them every day?  How much do we really care about the trees that surround us?

We do care, according to a new survey from The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. The Talking Trees survey, commissioned in March by Wakefield Research for the Arboretum, revealed what we in the Chicago metropolitan area know about the trees that surround us—finding that we’re emotionally connected to our trees and concerned about the future of Chicago’s urban forest.   

Key findings of the survey:

  • A green neighborhood is an ideal neighborhood. Most Chicagoans said they would “never live in a neighborhood without trees.”
  • Tree loss has an emotional impact, with a majority of Chicago-area residents citing concern about their city’s loss of trees.
  • We know our cities’ trees need human help to thrive, yet aren’t sure how to help them. Eight of 10 surveyed believe that city trees need human help to thrive, which is especially true in our populated cities, where trees undergo extra stress living alongside people and cars, as well as in smaller spaces. Yet, less than half knew that area trees may need additional water, or that trees benefit from mulch. 
  • Chicago-area residents understand some of the benefits of trees. Most surveyed understood that trees clean the air and contribute to our health. But we are less aware of other key benefits, including increasing home values, and protecting against climate change.
  • We understand the concept of “tree diversity” and its importance in the future of our cities. The best defense against future tree pests is to plant a wide variety of trees—and the majority of those surveyed agreed. The Morton Arboretum advocates diversity in planting as our best defense against a future pest, and offers a free resource to help identify the right tree for a specific location.

Trees Under Threat

An estimated 10,000 tree species are threatened worldwide, trees that support ecosystems around the world. Yet, compared to threatened animals like the panda bear or bald eagle, trees receive much less awareness. In fact, only 3 in 10 Chicagoans can name an endangered or threatened tree, while nearly 6 of 10 Chicagoans can name an endangered animal. 

Our Trees Need Champions

In Chicago and in cities around the country, every tree needs a champion–especially those that live in urban areas. Facing compacted soils, artificial surfaces, pollution, summer heat, and physical damage to limbs and roots, our urban trees need human intervention to live. Meanwhile, people—quite literally—cannot live without trees and the myriad benefits they provide.

This why our urban forests need planning, management and care, for a greener, healthier world. 

1 Urban Trees and Forests of the Chicago Region, August 2013


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