Downtown Trees for Comfort and Health

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

In Vermont, people know that winters are long, summers are glorious, and there are an awful lot of trees. But while the Green Mountains boast healthy forest cover that reflects their name, sustaining trees in Vermont’s urban and built environments is a challenge. Lack of adequate healthy soil, too little water, stresses from road salt, construction, or tree pests, and even normal aging and decline of downtown street trees require local urban foresters to stay on the lookout for appropriate places to plant new trees.

While many trees lie dormant during the winter months, their celebrated summer shade plays a pivotal role in sustaining vibrant downtown life and reducing risk of heat-related illness both indoors and out. Take a look at this thermal image provided by John Snell of Montpelier, Vermont. Captured on a sunny July day in the mid-80s°F, the image shows two littleleaf linden trees shading ground to 83°F while surrounding stone surfaces in the sun measure between 115°F and 120°F. Two people sit comfortably beneath the tree, taking respite from the heat and the sun’s UV rays. On days such as this one, a lot of energy goes into fans, air conditioners, and other mechanical ventilation systems needed to cool downtown homes and buildings sitting in full sun where the shade of trees does not reach.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program and Vermont Department of Health will run the Arbor Day Foundation’s Community Canopy Program in five locations during June and September of 2021. These urban population centers, some of the most vulnerable to heat-related illness in Vermont, will receive free trees and the expertise to plant them where they will most effectively cool homes and other buildings. Six categories of data comprise the Vermont heat vulnerability index map used to select partner communities: characteristics of the municipal population’s age, socioeconomic status, and health conditions, climate characteristics as measured by average high temperatures, current levels of observed heat illness, and environmental characteristics including the percentage of land covered by tree canopy.

Growing shade, protecting human health, and raising awareness about healthy urban trees are all inextricably linked byproducts of sustainable urban tree planting. Keep your eyes open for places to grow the next generation of resilient trees – your summer selves will thank you!

Photo / Photo Credit:
Thermal image, Main Street, Montpelier, VT. Credit: John Snell, Montpelier, VT
Social media URL(s):
Vermont Urban & Community Forestry webpage:
Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Facebook:
Vermont Urban & Community Forestry YouTube:
Author, Author title and any contact information:
Joanne Garton, Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program,