New Online Resource for Chicago Region Tree Canopy Assists Local Planning

Photo: Chicago RTI

Trees do more than beautify our landscape. These hardworking plants help reduce heat islands, clean our air and water, benefit vulnerable populations, impact real estate value and improve the health of a community. But not all trees are the same; what we grow and where we grow it matters.

       The Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI), a coalition of leading Chicago area environmental organizations led by the Morton Arboretum, recently launched a resource at to help communities around the Chicago area better understand its tree canopy to improve quality of life. The data reveals that of the 157 million trees in the seven-county Chicago region, 60 percent are comprised of fewer than 10 species, which puts the tree canopy at risk should pests or disease appear. Additionally, nearly one-third of those are invasive species, including the European buckthorn, the most abundant tree in the Chicago region.

       This resource, compiled by overlaying various data sets that include census information, median income, minority populations, temperature mapping, health data and air quality, plus aerial imagery, was designed to help more than 284 Chicago region municipalities plan for the future by creating a healthier tree canopy across the region.

       “We saw that there was a gap in knowledge and resources, which makes it especially challenging to persuade cities to focus on trees,” says Lydia Scott, of The Morton Arboretum, and director of CRTI. “With this new resource, CRTI is better equipped to help cities understand the critical function of trees in improving environmental conditions, economic development and overall quality of life.”

       The data shows that the greatest opportunity for increasing the area’s overall canopy exists on residential land, followed by transit corridors. “Now that we have an inventory of our region’s tree species, our cities can think more critically about what tree species to plant so that we do not experience catastrophic losses in the future,” says Scott.

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