Measuring the Benefits of Urban Tree Planting

Measuring the Benefits of Urban Tree Planting

By Kristiana Teige Witherill


greening the jade tree planting

On February 17, 2018, volunteers with Friends of Trees planted 127 trees in and around the Jade District as part of the Greening the Jade initiative. Following the event, Willamette Partnership collected baseline health surveys from 114 participants to help measure the health, environmental, and economic benefits of community greening projects like this one. Photo / Willamette Partnership.

Willamette Partnership is leading an effort to measure the health, environmental, and economic effects of increasing urban tree canopy and green space in Portland’s Jade District neighborhood.

The Jade District, the area surrounding 82nd and Division in southeast Portland, is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse zip codes in Oregon and is particularly known for its rich blend of Asian influences. This cultural hub is also one of the densest urban areas in Portland with disproportionately less access to tree canopy and green space relative to other parts of the region. It’s become the center of some of Oregon’s most significant challenges in the last year, including rising home prices and limited affordable housing, acute exposure to air pollutants from nearby transit and industry, and pressure to restore floodplain connectivity to reduce flooding.

All of these challenges compound the health, economic, and environmental disparities facing the Jade District. For example, asthma rates ranged from 13.8 to 18.4 percent in this area compared to 8.9 percent for all of Multnomah County.

To address these challenges–and as part of a larger Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative of Prosper Portland–Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) has put together a steering committee comprised of neighborhood association representatives, local business owners, school volunteers, and residents to lead a number of development initiatives. One initiative, called “Greening the Jade,” is a series of community action projects that will increase tree canopy and green space within the district to help improve environmental quality and the health of residents. APANO is partnering with Friends of Trees, Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, Columbia Land Trust, Audubon Society of Portland, Depave, Willamette Partnership, and others to implement Greening the Jade.

How We’re Partnering

greening the jade tree planting

After planting trees around the Jade District, volunteers took surveys as part of a baseline assessment for Willamette Partnership’s work measuring the health, environmental, and economic benefits of community greening projects. Photo / Willamette Partnership

Willamette Partnership is leading the development of a framework to measure the health, environmental, and economic benefits of all greening projects in the Jade District.

To do that, we’re engaging with Providence Health’s Center for Outcomes Research and Education, Portland State University, Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, and APANO to:

  • Adapt a standard health survey to measure the physical activity, social cohesion, and depression and stress reduction benefits associated with community tree planting efforts;
  • Adapt air quality models to predict reduced exposure to air pollutants as restored trees grow and intercept emissions from mobile and fixed sources in the Jade District;
  • Apply existing tools to estimate water quality improvements from greening projects; and
  • Collect stories about how projects are contributing to economic development and stability.

This project builds on the Jade District community partnership and increases the capacity of community leaders to track, quantify, and communicate the results of restoration projects in terms of air and water quality improvements, human health, jobs, and combating gentrification. These metrics will help APANO and other community leaders demonstrate the multiple benefits urban greenspace provides and make the case for additional investment in restoration.

Kristiana Teige Witherill is Willamette Partnership’s Clean Water Project Manager and lead on strategy development and facilitation for the National Network on Water Quality Trading. Prior to joining the Partnership, Kristiana was deputy director of Carpe Diem West, a nonprofit network of water resource and land managers pioneering innovative source water protection programs across the American West. Her work centered on building the value of the network, communications, and fundraising. Drawing on her experience at a water and wastewater utility, Kristiana has felt first-hand the challenges faced by the utility sector and works to find solutions to those challenges that benefit both people and the environment. She holds a Master of Environmental Science with a water resources management focus from the Bren School at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a BA in economics from Wellesley College.


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