Toronto’s urban forests are a significant asset to the city. Valued at $7 billion they produce, each year, $28 million worth of ecosystem services for the city, including carbon sequestration and flood protection. The challenge is many people, including policy and decision-makers, fail to make the connection between urban forests and the numerous economic, environmental, cultural and recreational benefits they provide. Toronto has found a way to overcome this.
Toronto’s urban forest vision
The City of Toronto has set a long-term vision that its urban forests – all trees within the city’s boundaries – will cover nearly half the city, providing residents with numerous environmental, ecological, social, cultural and economic benefits.
As part of the city’s urban forest management plan, Toronto has declared its urban forest vital green infrastructure that creates healthy neighbourhoods, supports habitats and biodiversity, promotes clean air and water, offers opportunities for recreation and education, fosters economic prosperity and enhances quality of life for everyone in the city.
To enhance quality of life and the urban environment, Toronto aims to increase its canopy cover to 40%, up from 28%. Currently, the city has approximately 10.2 million trees, with 40% on public land and 60% on private land.
Ecosystem benefits of Toronto’s urban forests
Toronto’s urban forests provide numerous environmental and ecological benefits including improved air and surface water quality, stormwater management and stabilization of slopes, which decreases erosion and slips, and provides habitats for a range of resident and migratory species of wildlife.
Regarding human health and community benefits, the city’s urban forests promote exercise, physical activity and relaxation, while contact with nature lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Toronto’s urban forests also provide shade from UV radiation while reducing outdoor air temperatures – critical with climate change bringing more hotter, drier days as well as more frequent heat-waves to the city.
Economically, properties adjacent to parks and open spaces with trees have higher property values, commercial properties with quality landscapes including trees have higher commercial returns and trees provide direct energy-savings by reducing cooling costs during summer and heating costs in winter.
Communicating the value of urban forests
One of the greatest challenges of managing urban forests in Toronto has been communicating the value of trees to the public as well as policy and decision-makers. Many people do not recognise the substantial monetary value of the services provide by a mature tree or the many intangible values trees provide including aesthetics, recreation, shade, community health etc. To increase awareness the city has increased stewardship of the city’s urban forests through two programmes:
- The Parkland Naturalization Program holds each spring the ‘Trees Across Toronto’ event in which volunteers, with financial support from corporate partners, plant trees across the city.
- The Community Stewardship Program where volunteers maintain, monitor and restore urban forests. Activities include invasive plant removal, watering of planted vegetation, planting of native plants and installation of bird boxes.
To communicate the value of Toronto’s urban forests, the city has developed community stewardship programmes that not only raise awareness of the city’s forests but also increases participation in managing them.