September 15, 2017
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Most of us appreciate green space for its visual appeal and the space it creates for us to stroll, run, play with the kids or walk the dog. Bruce Cockburn wrote, “when you stare at too much concrete, you forget the earth is alive.” This is so easy to do in our urban environments. Living landscapes improve our lives in so many ways. It is worth spending a little time to appreciate the benefits.

Green space provides economic, environmental, recreational, health, life-style, aesthetic, community, therapeutic and spiritual benefits.

Environmental benefits

Lawns, gardens and trees are picturesque, but they also provide huge environmental benefits. Plants are ultimately responsible for life. They capture and use carbon dioxide and other pollutants, cleaning our air and producing oxygen for us to breathe. Remember high school botany? Carbon dioxide acts as a fertilizer for plants. Photosynthesis in green plants uses the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. A 50 by 50 foot lawn produces enough oxygen for a family of four to breathe for one year.

Energy savings

Lawns, gardens and trees are also natural air conditioners. Studies have shown an average size, healthy front lawn has the cooling effect of 70 tons of air conditioning — enough for 16 average homes. In the winter, well-placed trees and shrubs can reduce energy costs by blocking cold winds and acting as insulation. The energy savings due to the climate control benefits of living landscapes are measurable and substantial. The reduction of the “heat island’ effect in our cities is another huge benefit.

Health benefits

Lawns gardens and trees trap dust particles, filtering the air we breathe. This is especially important in urban areas and close to highways. It has been estimated a busy road with 25,000 vehicles traveling on it daily will generate about nine kilograms of tire dust per kilometre. Where does this dust go? Living landscapes will trap some of it before it gets into our lungs.

Scientific Reports says people who live in neighbourhoods with a higher density of trees report significantly higher health perception and significantly less cardio-metabolic conditions. A Toronto Star summary of the study says people who live on a tree-lined block are less likely to report conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and that having 10 more trees on your block are akin to a $10,000 salary increase, moving to a neighbourhood with a $10,000 higher median income, or being seven years younger.

Economic benefits

There are also significant economic benefits to our living landscapes. Healthy lawns and gardens can increase property values by 15 to 20 per cent. Ask a real estate agent how much easier it is to sell a home surrounded by lush vegetation. Property managers will tell you that well-maintained landscapes increase tenant satisfaction and lower vacancy rates.

As Toronto Island residents can attest, flooding in urban areas is a serious problem. Storm water can routinely overwhelm pipes and catch basins. Lawns, gardens, trees, swales and rain gardens help by acting as a sponge and slowing the water down, reducing the burden on storm water sewers.

So, next time you are out for a stroll or walking the dog, spare a moment of appreciation for the trees, turf and flowers. You might breathe easier knowing the living landscape you help to create is providing all of us with cleaner air, mitigating climate change, cooling us in summer, warming us in winter, increasing property values and making our communities healthier and more liveable for generations to come.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at