Trees serve as nature's engineers in cities

A house sparrow perches in a young budding tree in downtown Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 31, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A house sparrow perches in a young budding tree in downtown Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 31, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

What other work of creation gives us so much beauty while delivering communities’ basic needs? After a long drawn out fall with plenty of gorgeous color, we have more time indoors to contemplate nature, including winter silhouettes of trees against lovely sunsets.

Even in the winter, our trees and forests are performing by holding soil in place and providing food that still clings to branches. They provide habitat for overwintering creatures that emerge and do good things in the spring. They welcome people to get outdoors, to walk and to relieve the winter doldrums.

Yes, we are left with leaves to rake. It is a chore but short-lived. While you are raking, remember that the leaves are great for compost that replenishes soil and that your trees can improve your property values and significantly lower your home energy costs.

Winter dormancy is an important time for trees. They take that time to concentrate their energies for the burst of spring growth. Then, through spring, summer and fall, they capture air pollutants, cool hot city places, and provide pleasant spaces to step out and bring down stress levels.

For more than 10 years, Trees Forever and the Holloway Family Environmental Trust have held an educational gathering in Cedar Rapids on the value and benefits of our natural assets. Today many other sponsors and partners have joined us to continue learning in an exciting forum with national and local experts. Tree lovers and huggers are welcome to join in roundtable discussions with general outdoor enthusiasts, planners and stormwater engineers, farmers and foresters and elected officials with city staff.

Returning by popular demand, Dr. Kathleen Wolf is an internationally known researcher with the ability to speak with any audience on why we need to invest more in managing, planting and generally restoring more nature to our cities and backyards. According to Dr. Wolf, “People have long recognized that nature in cities and towns provides beauty and respite. However, more green space also improves public health — ranging from individuals to entire communities. Our trees and other natural areas are also part of a ‘green infrastructure’ system that can be planned and integrated with buildings, roads and parking to create more sustainable urban environments.” She adds, “We’re also learning that nearby nature can be codesigned for co-benefits. Building a rain garden or bioswale for stormwater management? It can also become a micro-park that makes for better human habitat.”

We gain so much benefit from trees and green spaces. They often are the unnoticed backdrop of our lives, and not given much attention by most people. Yet this is changing, as scientists and engineers learn more about how green infrastructure can improve the workings and reduce costs of traditional gray infrastructure.


Well planned and managed trees and natural areas make us happy and help reduce community challenges such as flooding and air pollution. Yes, trees are good, in all seasons of the year. Please join us at the Symposium on Dec. 7 to learn more and join in community discussions. To register or review the agenda go to

• Shannon Ramsay is the CEO and founding president of Trees Forever and winner of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation’s 2017 Nonprofit Leadership Excellence Award



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