Monday I was sitting in Calhoun Square, when a tourist struck up a conversation with me.
“Are you lucky enough to live in this beautiful city?” she asked.
I said I was.
“I’m from Miami,” she said. “We have trees, but nothing like this,” pointing to the canopy overhead.
This visitor’s high opinion of Savannah’s urban forest is not unique, according to a recently concluded three-year study conducted by researchers at the Georgia Forestry Commission and the West Virginia University. According to Susan Reich, urban and community forestry coordinator at the GFC and Jinyang Deng of WVU, Savannah was selected as a study area “due to its renowned urban forest canopy in the historic district and well-managed urban forest.” The other study city was Washington D.C.
Part of the research in Savannah was conducted via interviews with tourists at the Savannah Visitors Center. Findings include:
“Results show that on a percentage scale ranging from 0 to 100, urban forests contribute 69.9 percent to the city’s beauty, 67.8 percent to the city’s image, 69.6 percent to the city’s attractiveness and 66.1 percent to a visitor’s tourism experience. In addition, urban forests account for 54.7 percent of the reasons cited for visiting the city, and were ranked second only to historical sites among eight attributes listed.”
The research confirms that historic sites are the main attractors, but that their power is amplified by the presence of the Savannah’s trees. Deng and Reich describe it this way:
“… urban forests are also a must-see attribute for most visitors who were motivated to visit the city primarily by its historical attractions. As one visitor noted, ‘The trees are an important part of Savannah and are what makes the city so beautiful, along with the architecture. It would not be the same city without them, nor would they attract tourists without them.'”
It’s important to remember our tree canopy’s role in the local economy, especially when trees are slated for removal to make way for road widening, parking lot construction and other invasive developments that are often promoted as drivers of economic growth. Reich and Deng underscore the relationship between trees and commerce by referencing previous research.
“… shady streets in business districts invite people to linger and shop longer, and studies show people spend up to 10 pecent more money when shopping on tree-lined streets.”
For more information about community tree management and care, download the The Georgia Model Urban Forest Book or contact the Georgia Forestry Commission at 800-GATREES.
Photo by Zoom Zoom via Flickr.