Living Infrastructure: Taking Care of Our Urban Forest

Living Infrastructure: Taking Care of Our Urban Forest

Trees in our Village provide myriad benefits beyond their inherent beauty. Foresters call these benefits eco-system services. This means that their presence in the community provides an economic, social and health benefit to the Village. Most of these benefits are well known: trees improve air and water quality, reduce local flooding and the urban heat island effect, and reduce energy use by shading buildings and parking lots. Trees provide habitat for wildlife. They improve the quality of life by reducing stress, increasing property values, screening and buffering incompatible land uses, and boosting social cohesion in their neighborhood.

One of the lesser known but important benefits of our trees is the role they play in the Village’s stormwater infrastructure as they provide reductions in runoff volumes and pollutant loads.  Trees prevent erosion by blocking raindrops, storing water, stabilizing soil with their roots, and by pulling water out of the ground through transpiration. Slowing stormwater filters runoff which reduces water pollution, thereby improving water quality. Trees reduce the volume of stormwater that flows off land through gutters and pipes. This means less investment in expensive infrastructure as well as cleaner water when the stormwater reaches our neighboring rivers and Lake Michigan. Remember, Glencoe gets its water from Lake Michigan!

Not all trees make good stormwater “sponges.” Some species of trees are better collectors of water than others. Swamp White Oak, Buckeye, River Birch, Basswood, Frontier Elm and Kentucky Coffee trees are among the best. More importantly, older larger trees are much better at retaining water than small new trees. That is the reason the Village adopted a Tree Preservation Ordinance in 2000, which protects trees that are eight inches or larger in diameter, excluding dead, diseased, and hazardous trees.

Glencoe is blessed with one of the largest municipal tree canopies in the Chicago region. The Village Forestry division maintains over 10,000 trees in the public parkway.   The Village has been designated “Tree City USA’ “by the National Arbor Day Foundation every year since 1984.

Due to the emerald ash borer, 13 million ash trees have died in the Chicago Region since 2010. Many of them were in Glencoe and they should be replaced. This will help us reduce the impacts of a changing climate and may help keep your basement dry. Please consider planting new trees and maintaining your existing trees for a greener Glencoe.

For more information please contact the Glencoe Village Forester or the Chicago Region Trees Initiative at ChicagoRTI.org.

Submitted by Glencoe Sustainability Task Force Member Dudley Onderdonk