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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Urban Greening: Social Cohesion and Quality of Life

Research Issue

[photo:] A temperature sensor installed in a Baltimore forest patch. Photo Credit: Emma Powell, US Forest ServiceForests can enhance urban residents’ quality of life in a variety of ways. By influencing air temperature, urban trees indirectly affect air quality, human comfort and health, and energy use in buildings. The urban forest effects on temperature vary depending in a complex way on a variety of factors: current and recent weather conditions, number of buildings, amount of impervious cover over the ground, tree species, tree size, and planting arrangement or density. In addition to these biophysical benefits, trees may have sociological impacts on urban communities, including property values, crime rates, and social cohesion. For example, city parks are generally thought to be environmental assets that have a positive influence on nearby property prices.  But does this hold true in areas with high crime rates?

Our Research

Baltimore Field Station staff have made significant contributions to the literature on urban green space, social cohesion, and quality of life. Trees appear to enhance the strength of social ties among neighbors. The density of tree cover in Baltimore neighborhoods has a significant positive relationship with social capital, assessed with an extensive social survey instrument. The same survey data also reveal that access to a clean natural environment contributes to both neighborhood and individual satisfaction. In another analysis, a strong inverse relationship was found between tree canopy and crimes of robbery, burglary, theft, and shooting when high-resolution tree canopy data and geocoded crime point data were compared in the Baltimore region. Modeling results indicated conservatively that a 10 percent increase in tree canopy was associated with a roughly 12 percent decrease in crime. However, further research into park locations, crime rates, and property prices in Baltimore reveal a more complex pattern. In areas with lower crime rates, parks have a positive influence on property prices, but in areas with higher crime rates, parks have a negative influence on property prices. Finally, Baltimore Field Station research has quantified urban forest influences on air temperature across urban areas. Air temperature models can predict the effect of adding trees in different land uses across Baltimore, resulting in maps of ambient air temperature, the temperature people experience at ground level.

Research Results

Holtan, Meghan T., Susan L. Dieterlen, and William C. Sullivan. 2014. Social life under cover: tree canopy and social capital in Baltimore, Maryland. Environment and Behavior 47(5): 502-525.

Troy, Austin; Grove, J. Morgan; O'Neill-Dunne, Jarlath. 2012. The relationship between tree canopy and crime rates across an urban-rural gradient in the greater Baltimore region. Landscape and Urban Planning. 106: 262-270.

Vemuri, Amanda W., J. Morgan Grove, Matthew A. Wilson, and William R. Burch. 2009. A tale of two scales: Evaluating the relationship among life satisfaction, social capital, income, and the natural environment at individual and neighborhood levels in metropolitan Baltimore. Environment and Behavior 43(1): 3-25.

Troy, Austin; Grove, J. Morgan. 2008. Property values, parks, and crime: A hedonic analysis in Baltimore, MD. Landscape and Urban Planning 87: pp. 233–245.

Heisler, G., J. Walton, I. Yesilonis, D. Nowak, R. Pouyat, R. Grant, S. Grimmond, K. Hyde, and G. Bacon. 2007. Empirical modeling and mapping of below-canopy air temperatures in Baltimore, MD and vicinitySeventh Urban Environment Symposium, San Diego, CA, American Meteorological Society, Boston, J2.7.

Partner Publications

Li, X., Zhou, W., & Ouyang, Z. 2013. Relationship between land surface temperature and spatial pattern of greenspace: What are the effects of spatial resolution?. Landscape and Urban Planning, 114, 1-8.

Huang, G., Zhou, W., & Cadenasso, M. L. 2011. Is everyone hot in the city? Spatial pattern of land surface temperatures, land cover and neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics in Baltimore, MD. Journal of environmental management, 92(7), 1753-1759.

Zhou, W., Huang, G., & Cadenasso, M. L. 2011. Does spatial configuration matter? Understanding the effects of land cover pattern on land surface temperature in urban landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, 102(1), 54-63.

Zhou, W., Huang, G., Troy, A., & Cadenasso, M. L. 2009. Object-based land cover classification of shaded areas in high spatial resolution imagery of urban areas: A comparison study. Remote Sensing of Environment, 113(8), 1769-1777.

Research Participants

    • Morgan Grove, US Forest Service, Research Forester
    • Austin Troy, University of Colorado Denver
    • Mary Cadenasso, UC Davis
    • Weiqi Zhou, Chinese Academy of Sciences
    • Ganlin Huang, Beijing Normal University
Last Modified: October 7, 2015