Trees, trees and more trees
It was in secondary school we were taught about trees and plants. That was when I learned that they took in the carbon dioxide we breathe out and produce the oxygen we need to survive. It seemed like a pretty cool exchange. They give us oxygen and we give them carbon dioxide. It was balanced.
Years later while studying urban design in graduate school, I realized that all the cities I loved were purposeful about making nature an integral part of their city. So think, NYC’s Central Park, Chicago’s Millennium Park and the new addition to Singapore’s Jewel Changi airport, just to name a few. The thing that’s unique about these cities and others is that they understood the recreational, restorative and economical value that trees and nature added to their cities.
Inspired by these cities, I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking of what Lagos would look like if we planted more trees and valued nature more. If you’re not familiar with Lagos, you need to know that Lagos has some things going for it but what it doesn’t have is a lot of trees or value for them. Quite regularly you’re driving down a street and wonder what’s different about it, then it clicks that a bunch of old trees had been cut down to make room for a new building or to create more visibility for an existing building without considering creative ways to work around the trees, some of which are decades and even centuries old.
All of this helped me realize that we collectively seem to have forgotten what we learned in secondary school. We forgot about the need for balance and we’re suffering for it. So I thought I’d remind us of some of the benefits of planting more trees and surrounding ourselves with nature:
1. They’re restorative & beautiful. According to an article in Nature.com, not only do trees improve air quality, they also improve our mental health, reduce our blood pressure and our stress levels too. Research also shows that greenery lowers aggression and aids in recovery from surgeries and other health issues[i]. In addition to these great benefits, an article in Psychology Today points to the fact that plants also increase productivity, reaction times and attentiveness[ii].
So imagine the impact tree lined streets would have on Lagos and Lagosians. In a city plagued with constant traffic, exhaust fumes and an inefficient transportation system, this small change would give commuters a place to hide from the sun on their way home from work. It would provide shade and shelter too for policemen and women and maybe, just maybe they’ll be a little less aggressive to the people they’re supposed to protect.
Trees, plants and nature in general are also beautiful to look at and it’s not only real life greenery that’s helpful. Even photos of nature and artificial plants (the almost real looking ones) have a positive impact on our mood[iii]. We’ve all gone to weddings, where there are flower walls and center pieces that bring in color and vibrancy to the venue. All of this can be replicated in our homes, offices and other spaces with just a little bit of effort.
Consider replacing your concrete pavers with grass or planting a tree or two. A rooftop garden would be a great plus for a new project and creeping plants add a nice touch on your external building or fence walls. If you live in a rented apartment, consider potted plants or realistic looking artificial ones. Green leafy plants have been shown to help us de-stress, restore our mental processing power and increase your capacity for creative thinking; all skills needed at home and at work[iv]. Another option is getting nicely framed landscape paintings or photography to accentuate your space.
2. They help with the heat. Lagos is a tropical city and more times than not it is very hot and humid. Combine this with the fact that cities tend to be ‘heat islands’ meaning that they are typically hotter than the rural areas surrounding them due to the concentration of people, buildings, cars and other activities[v]. Also, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “trees and other plants help cool the environment, making vegetation a simple and effective way to reduce urban heat islands.” They also go on to state that, “shaded surfaces, … may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials.”[vi] That is a huge temperature difference that no one should have to deal with when there are simple solutions.
This excessive heat affects our health, air quality and significantly increases our air conditioning needs & cost amongst other things. It is also why anytime we leave the city and travel to our respective home towns and villages, it always feels like the air is fresher & cooler.
Consider planting trees with thick cover like a mango or ebelebo tree along the west side of your building, in front of your windows and strategically to cover a good portion of your roof and hard ground surfaces like parking lots and roads[vii]. And if you opt for a fruit tree, that’s an added bonus for when NEPA decides not to do their job. You can just pluck a mango, chill out under the tree and relax. #Icannotcomeandgoanddie
3. They help with tourism. Dubai, a city in the middle of the desert knows this and they’ve made the effort and investment through various landscaping programs and initiatives. Year after year, tourists troop to Dubai and I’m certain that trees have played a pivotal role in making the desert city much more habitable for its tourists and residents alike. Unfortunately, Lagos, a port city that enjoys the rich ecosystem of the tropics continues to linger year after year at the bottom of most city rankings. The importance of preserving and planting more trees and greenery cannot be overstated especially at a time when we’re dealing with global warming and its resultant impact on our weather.
We can’t wait for the government to act, so consider sharing the importance of planting trees with your neighborhood or estate association and push them to follow through with implementation and maintenance. Also, neighborhoods with trees are more appealing to buyers and renters which will definitely improve property prices, meaning more money in your pocket when you decide to sell.
While there are a lot of other factors that need to be addressed to encourage tourism, these simple community based changes can propel domestic tourism which will enrich us and our communities. Trees and vegetation are also important in commercial areas because according to the Georgia Forestry Commission, people are known to slow their pace, shop longer and spend about 10% more money while shopping on streets with lots of trees[viii].
My personal love for trees has grown over the years as I became more conscious of their benefits and how they affected my mood. I have always lived in places with lots of trees and vegetation, many thanks to my mum who insisted on planting trees and flowers everywhere she could.
Do you think trees & plants are important? Share in the comments and remember to plant a tree!
Also get in touch for specific recommendations on how you can incorporate nature into your spaces.
[i] Kardan, Omid, et al. “Neighborhood Greenspace and Health in a Large Urban Center.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 9 July 2015, www.nature.com/articles/srep11610#ref1.
[ii] Kaplan, Jonathan S. “Plants Make You Feel Better.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Mar. 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-mindfulness/200903/plants-make-you-feel-better.
[iii] Augustin, Sally. “Benefits of the Indoor Plant.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 Feb. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/people-places-and-things/201802/benefits-the-indoor-plant.
[iv] Augustin, Sally. “Benefits of the Indoor Plant.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 Feb. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/people-places-and-things/201802/benefits-the-indoor-plant.
[v] National Geographic Society. “Urban Heat Island.” National Geographic Society, 9 Oct. 2012, www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/urban-heat-island/.
[vi] “Using Trees and Vegetation to Reduce Heat Islands.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 12 Aug. 2016, www.epa.gov/heat-islands/using-trees-and-vegetation-reduce-heat-islands.
[vii] “Using Trees and Vegetation to Reduce Heat Islands.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 12 Aug. 2016, www.epa.gov/heat-islands/using-trees-and-vegetation-reduce-heat-islands.
[viii] Granbery, Susan. “Trees and Tourism: An Alluring Link.” Sustainable Community Forestry, 6 July 2009, gfccommunityforestry.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/trees-and-tourism-an-alluring-link/.