News / Vancouver

Vancouver ranks highest in tree canopy coverage among world's major cities

But densification could threaten the city’s urban forest, says one urban forestry expert

A view of Vancouver's Stanley Park.

Metro File

A view of Vancouver's Stanley Park.

A new analysis of trees in major cities around the world puts Vancouver at the top of list for the largest green canopy.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology used Google Street View to calculate tree canopy from a human point of view, as opposed to the more common way, from a bird’s-eye view.

According to the interactive platform, called Treepedia, Vancouver scored 26 per cent – far ahead of Geneva’s 21 per cent and neighbouring Seattle’s 20 per cent.

The City of Vancouver’s own bird’s-eye-view calculation of its tree canopy marks it as 18 per cent, making Treepedia’s results somewhat surprising, said one UBC urban forestry professor.

“It’s surprising to some extent because Vancouver has had an issue with canopy cover. It is below 20 per cent and falling,” said Cecil Konijnendijk.

But the street-level analysis of tree coverage is a refreshing perspective – and an important one – considering the benefits seeing trees have on people’s health, he said.

Treepedia’s analysis of Vancouver’s tree-canopy using Google Street View. Screengrab

Screengrab/MIT Senseable City Lab

Treepedia’s analysis of Vancouver’s tree-canopy using Google Street View. Screengrab

“There’s quite a bit of research coming out now that says not only is it important for us to use green spaces but also to have visual access to green spaces,” he said.

“It is important for us to see trees from our window and at work. It can lower our stress levels.”

The City of Vancouver has planted 47,000 trees since 2010, according to its Urban Forestry Strategy.

But while Vancouver is located in a rainforest, Konijnendijk warned that urban densification can still put a dent in its tree canopy.

Trees on private property are especially vulnerable as the city continues to densify, he said.

“As a consequence, there are fewer trees, especially private trees, garden trees.”

Vancouver homeowners were able to remove one tree from their lot every year until city council changed the tree protection bylaw in 2014.

More on Metronews.ca