Urban areas need trees — and the mayor finally agrees

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Since being voted Most Livable City in 2007, the city of Pittsburgh has become increasingly recognized for its commitment to sustainable design and environmentally friendly development ideals.

There are significant brownfield redevelopment efforts and a staggering number of corporate and research centers being built in the city. These follow green building standards, and are some of the crucial elements contributing to the city’s transformation from a formerly smoggy, industrial city to a progressive, clean one. Moreover, the city is a leader in LEED-certified buildings: The region has 40 buildings, or five million square feet, of LEED certification or registration, according to an explanation by Rebecca L. Flora, executive director of the Green Building Alliance, on

But beyond this development that is part of the environmental sustainability-based movement, Pittsburgh is now going more green — and this time, it’s to actually make some green.

According to an Oct. 8 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Rich Lord titled “Pittsburgh to make push to plant more street trees,” the city of Pittsburgh has “a street tree gap.” That means that there are not enough trees in the city to combat construction, pollution, and other urban development, as well as to provide a high quality of life for urban residents. The environmental nonprofit group, Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest, argues that Pittsburgh has only one street tree per 11 city residents, as opposed to the one street tree per three residents found in most major American cities, according to the article.

Moreover, the nonprofit group identifies a declining urban forest in Pittsburgh as of the late 1990s, according to their website, It cites Carnegie Mellon research that indicates that 20 percent of trees planted in the city proper survive fewer than five years.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (yes, the young one) recognizes that “inappropriate” trees were planted in recent years, essentially trees that caused sidewalk and nearby utility wire damage, but he aims to reverse that trend.

To any Pittsburgh resident — college student and retired steel worker alike — there’s a quickly identifiable problem in these statements: Pittsburgh has no money. From the cracked streets on the Sweepstakes course in Schenley Park to the dilapidated houses of the city’s older districts, it can look like Pittsburgh is far from revitalization. But as we know from just the green building movement alone, this city is on its way back up. Mayor Luke recognizes this, as well as the fact that greening the landscape — and profiting from it — will help.

Along with his administration, he is planning to plant 100 trees in neighborhood business districts and 37 more downtown during this year’s fall planting season. While I’m pretty sure Mayor Luke won’t be exercising his own green thumb in the physical planting of the trees, he is certainly exercising it in the business world. That is, urban trees in Pittsburgh create $2.4 million in value each year for the city, according to the a recent study by the Davey Resource Group — and Mayor Luke is, wisely, cashing in.

Beyond their aesthetic value — the added green color of trees will be a welcome reprieve against the grayed-out backdrop of the downtown commercial sector — the additional 137 trees will “clean water and air, reduce stormwater runoff, lower energy bills and raise property values,” Lord wrote.

While the Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest nonprofit group recently estimated that a full-scale revitalization of the city’s trees would cost $8 million, the imminent planting of new urban trees is an incredibly important and real step toward making our city healthy. With this move, the mayor is adding an economic factor into the equation of promoting sustainability and green growth on a large urban scale. The more economically powerful the city is, the sooner Pittsburgh will be back on the map, and going green is a healthy, responsible way to get there.