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Trees and Shopping

City Creek Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Hermann Luyken
Wikimedia Commons
New transit-oriented, mixed-use walkable downtowns, likethis one in Rockville, Md., are often replacing indoor shopping malls and strip malls that once defined suburban America.

Would you rather shop in a business district set on tree-lined streets, or in an area without trees?

A recent study shows that consumers respond in remarkably positive ways to shopping environments that are nestled within a healthy urban forest. Social scientists at the University of Washington studied how the presence of trees influences the ways that we perceive and behave when we’re out shopping.

Customers shopping in business districts that had tree-lined sidewalks reported that they had an 80% higher comfort level compared to how they felt when shopping in treeless streets. Consumers also perceived that retailers who incorporated trees into their property contribute to the well-being of the community, and rated interactions with those merchants more positively than with other merchants.

Consumers also stated that they were willing to pay more for parking and even more for goods in a shopping area that had trees than those without them — both for low-priced goods like a tuna sandwich and for bigger ticket items like sports shoes or eyeglasses.

None of this really surprises me. Our physical surroundings, both outdoor and indoor, affect many of the decisions we make. This study — and other research on the economic values of trees — suggest that people carry their favorable perceptions of trees with them when they decide where they shop, where they recreate, where they work and where they live.

So the value of trees isn’t only about their many ecological contributions and their beauty. Caring for trees makes dollars and sense.

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni is an emeritus professor of both The Evergreen State College and the University of Utah, one of the world’s leading ecologists and a popular science communicator. Dr. Nadkarni’s research and public engagement work is supported by the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. @nalininadkarni
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