Urban trees, air quality, and asthma: An interdisciplinary review

Journal Article by Theodore S. Eisenman, Galina Churkina, Sunit P. Jariwala, Prashant Kumar, Gina S. Lovasi, Diane E. Pataki, Kate R. Weinberger, Thomas H. Whitlow
April 2, 2019

Urban Health Collaborative   (Philadelphia)

A “call to action” has been issued for scholars in landscape and urban planning, natural science, and public health to conduct interdisciplinary research on the human health effects of spending time in or near greenspaces. This is timely in light of contemporary interest in municipal tree planting and urban greening, defined as organized or semi-organized efforts to introduce, conserve, or maintain outdoor vegetation in urban areas. In response to injunctions from scholars and urban greening trends, this article provides an interdisciplinary review on urban trees, air quality, and asthma. We assess the scientific literature by reviewing refereed review papers and empirical studies on the biophysical processes through which urban trees affect air quality, as well as associated models that extend estimates to asthma outcomes. We then review empirical evidence of observed links between urban trees and asthma, followed by a discussion on implications for urban landscape planning and design. This review finds no scientific consensus that urban trees reduce asthma by improving air quality. In some circumstances, urban trees can degrade air quality and increase asthma. Causal pathways between urban trees, air quality, and asthma are very complex, and there are substantial differences in how natural science and epidemiology approach this issue. This may lead to ambiguity in scholarship, municipal decision-making, and landscape planning. Future research on this topic, as well as on urban ecosystem services and urban greening, should embrace epistemological and etiological pluralism and be conducted through interdisciplinary teamwork.

Publisher Info:

Landscape and Urban Planning Volume 187, July 2019