up the vast majority of the land in U.S. cities. However, there are emerging categories of land use, such as those espoused under the term New Urbanism, which combine several area types (such as commercial and high-density residential areas). Although land use can be broadly and generally categorized, local variations can be extremely important such that locally available land-use data and definitions should always be used. For example, local planning agencies typically do not separate the medium-density residential areas into subcategories. However, this may be necessary to represent different development trends that have occurred with time, and to represent newly emerging types of land uses for an area. Box 3-1 discusses the subtle influence that tree canopy could have on the residential land-use classification.
Researchers at Columbia University (de Sherbinin, 2002) state that 83 percent of the Earth’s land surface has been affected by human settlements and activities, with the urbanized areas comprising about 4 percent of the total land use of the world. Urban areas are expanding world-wide, especially in developing countries. The United Nations Population Division estimates suggest that the
The Role of Tree Cover in Residential Land Use
Figure 3-1 shows two medium-density residential neighborhoods, one older and one newer. Tree canopy is obviously different in each case, and it may have an effect on seasonal organic debris in an area and possibly on nutrient loads (although nutrient discharges appear to be more related to homeowner fertilizer applications). Increased tree canopy cover also has a theoretical benefit in reducing runoff quantities due to increased interception losses. In both cases, however, monitoring data to quantify these benefits are sparse. Xiao (1998) examined the effect urban tree cover had on the rainfall volume striking the ground in Sacramento, California. The results indicated that the type of tree or type of canopy cover affected the amount of rainfall reduction measured during a rain event, such that large broad-leafed evergreens and conifers reduced the rainfall that reached the ground by 36 percent, while medium-sized conifers and deciduous trees reduced the rainfall by 18 percent. Cochran (2008) compared the volume and intensity of rain that reached the ground in an open area (no canopy cover) versus two areas with intact canopy covers in Shelby County, Alabama, over a year. The sites were sufficiently close to each other to assume that the rainfall characteristics were the same in terms of the intensity and the variation of intensity and volume during the storm. Rainfall “throughfall” was reduced by about 13.5 percent during the spring and summer months when heavily wooded cover existed. The rainfall characteristics at the leafless tree sites (winter deciduous trees) were not significantly different from the parking lot control sites. In many locations around the county, very high winds are associated with severe storms, significantly decreasing the interception losses. Of course, mature trees are known to provide other benefits in urban areas, including shading to counteract stormwater temperature increases and massive root systems that help restore beneficial soil structure conditions. Additional research is needed to quantify the benefits of urban trees through a comprehensive monitoring program.