The view urban residents hold on tree presence

What are the attitudes of residents in urban areas to trees? To what extent do residents consider trees important to quality of life? Do demographic factors influence how residents perceive trees? During 20-minute telephone conversations with 1,038 randomly-contacted residents of the 112 largest metropolitan areas in the USA, these exact questions were asked.

The telephone conversations involved the residents being read a series of statements to do with urban trees, and they had to rate each statement from 1-4 (with 1 being strongly disagree and 4 being strongly agree). The age of the survey participant, income, and education levels were some of the demographic qualities obtained during the survey, in order to enable for statistical analyses to be run against these variables.

Of the 1,038 participants, 44% were male and 56% female, with an average age of 42 (the range was from 18-90). 75% were white / caucasian, 60% had an income of $50,000 or above, and 41% had a college degree that took at least four years. 66% stated that, during childhood, they had not lived in the city environment. The results of the statements read to each participant are shown below.

table1
Reasons to have trees, ranked in relation to the results obtained by the survey respondents.
table2
And reasons why not to have trees, or perhaps just the adverse impacts of trees, ranked per the survey results.

From these results, it is evident that the highest value held by individuals is that trees cool and shade surroundings (and this ranking is supported by many other studies), though the fact that all results rank higher than 2.5 (which was deemed as ‘neutral’) is significant. The second highest response, which is that of trees keeping people calmer, is also supported by other studies as a significant factor in why people value urban trees.

With regards to problems trees cause, none of the statements read ranked above 2.5 (neutral). Therefore, many survey respondents would have strongly disagreed (or disagreed) with the statements. Obviously, those who took the survey did not consider these statements as major reasons for why trees cause problems, suggesting either wrong statements were used or residents just don’t consider the issues trees cause as being as important as the benefits they provide.

So how did demographics impact upon the results obtained? The table below displays all of the variables, though we can see that females strong consider trees to be important for quality of life (85%) slightly more than males (80%), though both genders rate trees highly. The results also show that the better the education of a person the more likely they are to see trees as important, and the same applies to yearly earnings (up to $75,000 – above this, and the positive view of trees drops slightly). Growing up on a farm also seems to be most significant in terms of valuing trees for what they provide, though all forms of upbringing – from urban to rural – are rather similar.

table3
How did demographics influence the view respondents had of trees in urban areas?

Therefore, it can be said with at least a reasonable degree of confidence that people generally do value trees. The adverse impacts trees offer the urban environment, whilst still recognised as problems, are far less significant in how an average resident living in a city will form their view of trees. Those who are least likely to value trees however, according to this study, will have a profile of being male, of a young age, have received little education, have been raised in the city, and be African American or Asian American.

Of this data, perhaps the most concerning thing is that more individuals are being raised in cities than ever before, so will the data drawn from this study signify what the future may hold? It would certainly be curious to have follow up studies undertaken, particularly of younger generations.

Source: Lohr, V., Pearson-Mims, C., Tarnai, J., & Dillman, D. (2004) How urban residents rate and rank the benefits and problems associated with trees in cities. Journal of Arboriculture. 30 (1). p28-35.

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The view urban residents hold on tree presence

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