Housing and Trees Can Coexist

Trees and affordable housing are not mutually exclusive.

Thoughtful design can provide adequate space for both.

Developers and architects who take time to design with green space in mind can create enough space for both trees and buildings. Many builders claim that preserving trees is desirable but adds to building costs, and that can be particularly problematic for first-time home buyers and disproportionately affected low-income people. That means that creating incentives to keep trees becomes even more important, especially in a world facing climate crisis. 

The urgent need for affordable housing and deciding how best to implement Oregon’s House Bill (HB) 2001 add another layer of complexity about leaving space for trees. We may end up creating more places to live, but less livable places. Research shows that it is our most vulnerable populations who suffer the ill effects of low tree canopy and urban heat-islands.

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As infill proceeds, the tendency is to maximize the buildable footprint of each lot. Front doors may be only 10 feet from the sidewalk, allowing at best fewer and smaller trees. At maturity, these trees will still be shorter than the houses and unable to provide shade to roofs or sidewalks. Fewer large trees means more noise and less shade, pollution filtration, and rainfall interception, as well as more impermeable surfaces like roofs, driveways, and paved paths. 

Laws and regulations meant to achieve other goals may also make saving trees more difficult. And it is hard for a tree-conscious builder to compete against one who isn't going to treat the land the same way.

There are examples of developments and designs that already have an innovative solutions to these problems, and that both goals, planning space for tree and building adequate affordable housing, can be met. Preserving trees in development requires good design, communication, and money, but the results are worth that effort.

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