A source of shade and privacy. A streetscape brightener. A place for dogs to pee. How can anyone know the true value of a New York City sidewalk tree? Impossible, perhaps—but this being the Bloomberg era, someone had to come up with a number. “It’s New York, and we like to quantify things,” says Fiona Watt, the Parks Department’s chief of forestry and horticulture. And so over the last two summers, more than a thousand people volunteered to conduct a tree census of the five boroughs, the second in the city’s history (the other was in 1995)—and the first to put a price tag on each specimen.
City foot soldiers counted 592,130 non-park trees altogether. Each tree’s type, age, size, and location was fed into a computer program, developed by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis, that quantified the plant’s annual value in saving energy costs (more shade means less air-conditioning), improving air quality, absorbing storm-water runoff, and prettifying the block. The study determined that street trees are collectively worth $122 million a year to the city, with an average of $50 to $300 apiece. Not surprisingly, the oldest and largest are worth the most.
Those figures may mean a lot to urban planners, but the average homeowner is more interested in how much money that ginkgo will put in his pocket someday. The standard formula says a dwelling with a tree in front is worth .88 percent more than a home without one; apartment buildings are more complicated. The city’s math allowed for a tree’s effect on property values, but with a limitation: The survey priced all houses equally, at $537,300, the median cost of a single-family home in 2005.
To account for real-world variations in home prices, we got rough appraisals from real-estate agents for each of the addresses at right and did the math ourselves. The result? Maybe Park Slopers shouldn’t let dogs whiz on that Callery pear.
Westchester Square, the Bronx
1454 Rowland St., nr. Tratman Ave.
When fully grown, this tree will have large, serrated leaves that will add to its value by cleaning more air than a similar-size tree with smaller leaves. Until then, this little guy, which sits in front of a two-family home, contributes just $60.44 a year to property values and $10.32 in energy savings.
Value to city: $75.67 a year
To homeowner: $3,630
Jamaica Estates, Queens
85-22 Wicklow Pl., nr. Grand Central Pkwy.
One of the most prevalent species in the city, this tree earns its keep by providing shade that saves $113.40 in cooling costs a year, $22.62 for filtering the air from the nearby Grand Central Parkway, and $190.20 for combating storm-water runoff.
Value to city: $446.69 a year
To homeowner: $7,480
Upper East Side, Manhattan
238 E. 95th St., nr. Third Ave.
This gritty street tree saves $79.37 in energy costs each year by shading the nearby apartment building, which contains nineteen units of affordable housing. It also contributes $14.94 a year in air-quality benefits and $90.19 in stemming storm-water runoff.
Value to city: $300.97 a year
To building: $16,500
Park Slope, Brooklyn
527 Sixth Ave., nr. 14th St.
Most Brooklynites know this tree for its strong-smelling white flowers and propensity to drop small red fruit onto the sidewalk. The city says this one, in front of a brownstone, overcomes those negatives by contributing $152.35 to the area property values and saving $27.95 in energy costs.
Value to city: $223.04 a year
To homeowner: $15,840