Environment

Louisville is working to beef up its tree canopy, after an assessment earlier this year showed the city is losing trees at a rate of about 54,000 a year.

The environmental benefits of trees are well-known, but there’s less data about how trees affect human health. A new study will soon be underway in Louisville to attempt to measure this effect.

The Green Heart Coalition — which is made up of several organizations including the University of Louisville, the Louisville Metro Office of Sustainability and the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil — will use $150,000 in grant funding to study one Louisville neighborhood over the next year.

“We all know that it’s nice to have trees in a neighborhood, but not as many people know that they can have a particular health impact,” said Veronica Combs of the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil.

Researchers know that trees can improve air quality, and they create a nicer environment that reduces stress. But Combs said there’s no data quantifying the health benefits of trees.

In the next few weeks, the Green Heart Coalition will choose a Louisville neighborhood and decide which health factors to measure. Over the next year, the group will green the neighborhood, planting shrubs and trees on private property and in right-of-ways.

“Then we’re going to take the same health measurements again to see, can a green environment make people measurably healthier?” Combs said.

There will be a control neighborhood too — one with similar tree cover, demographics and traffic — so the study can determine whether the trees have had a measurable effect on residents’ health.

Combs said the study is intended to test the concept for a much larger program to study the health effects of trees over several years.

Featured image courtesy of Chris Chandler.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.