Washingtons and the Cherry Tree

What’s a tree worth to a New York City homeowner? How about a park nearby?

In this era of green wisdom, the answer still isn’t quite clear. Unlike the environmental benefits (easier to empirically quantify) and the aesthetic benefits (impossible to measure but understood implicitly by every urban dweller since time immemorial), the financial benefits to homeowners of trees and of parks are not concrete.

Yes, living on Central Park or Riverside Park—or a handful of other noteworthy expanses—can give homeowners stratospheric value for their four walls and a ceiling. But what of the simple tree on the sidewalk outside of the apartment building or townhouse not on Gold Coast Fifth Avenue or Gramercy Park North?

That tree, depending on what kind it is, gives at least some value to nearby private property.

The Bloomberg administration this past spring released a census of the city’s street trees conducted by a branch of the U.S. Forest Service. The street trees increased property value by an estimated $52.5 million annually, or $90 per tree on average. Basically, a tree is valuable to property owners in proportion to the amount of leaf coverage it can provide yearly; so, mature trees, those that have more or less grown as far as they can go, are less valuable in the long run than younger trees with many growth spurts to come.

So, the census explained, “a very young population of 100 callery pears will have a greater annual aesthetic benefit than an equal number of mature planetrees.”

The actual property value added by a callery tree reaches more than $120 annually, according to the census. At the other end of the botanical spectrum, a cherry tree adds $18.35 in value annually.

(The most common type of street tree, the census concluded, was the London planetree, followed by the Norway maple; together, they accounted for nearly 30 percent of the city’s street trees.)

And what about parks, veritable breeding grounds for these tree species? Proximity matters, sometimes to a minute degree.

Sarah Nicholls, an assistant geography professor at Michigan State University, wrote an article for the National Recreation and Park Association on the impact of parks on property value. Citing a study in Portland, Oregon, she wrote, “193 public parks ranging in size from 0.2 to 567.8 acres were, as a group, found to have a significant positive impact on the value of properties within a straight-line distance of 1,500 feet.”

Washingtons and the Cherry Tree