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ANNA SMITH: More urban greenery would help our city thrive

Trees and greenspace provide environmental benefits to cities, for sure, but they also contribute to the economy of communities.

The retail giant, Amazon, gets it. The company recently built its workers a mini rain forest inside three domes in downtown Seattle next to high-rise office buildings where many of their highest paid workers plug away. The company refers to the project as “the Spheres,” and it’s even cooler than you might imagine 一 Amazonian, really. The giant glass-and-metal domes are filled with 25,000 tropical and rare plants, including a 55-foot, 48-year-old ficus tree nicknamed Rubi. The company celebrated the grand opening of the Spheres on Jan. 29.

Did Amazon construct these glass geodesic dome-shaped structures near the company’s headquarters for its 40,000 Seattle employees just for fun? Did they seek splashy headlines? Or are they tapping into something deeper? I would argue that the growing corporation with a market value over $685 billion has recognized the profound impact that greenspace has on employees and productivity, hoping to have a long-term positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

The massive urban garden is now open for employees to hold meetings beside a cascading waterfall, brainstorm in a third-story “bird’s nest” or work on laptops amid a lush setting of ferns, tropical plants and trees. Amazon employees will have to reserve a time slot to enter the building, but over time will be able to come and go from what executives call an “alternative workspace” that’s aimed at boosting collaboration and creativity. Amazon hopes the Spheres help the company attract, retain and enhance the productivity and well-being of its fast-growing workforce.

Not every worker can enjoy a curated greenhouse experience for meetings and breaks. But research shows that the simple presence of trees and greenspace in urban areas slows down traffic, fosters civic pride and identity, and improves property values. And I don’t want to gloss over the profound environmental effects. Here are some facts: (1) for every 10 percent increase in urban tree canopy, ozone is reduced by a whopping 3 percent to 7 percent; (2) research has also shown a 60 percent reduction in particulates from car exhaust fumes on streets lined with trees. One can’t ignore these numbers. And increasingly, cities have recognized that greenspace - specifically the presence of mature trees - provide not only environmental benefits and curb appeal, but they're also good for business.

A program of scientific studies has found that shoppers respond positively to trees in downtown business districts; in short, they buy a lot more. These findings have been consistent across the large, small and mid-sized cities of the United States. The most positive consumer response is associated with streets having a mature, well-managed urban forest where an overarching tree canopy helps create a "sense of place." (An urban forest could be defined as any densely wooded area located in a city.)

It’s about time we look beyond the aesthetic and environmental benefits, and start taking seriously the huge economic impact to be made by trees in our city. In order to see this impact, tree plantings need to be strategic; groupings of mature trees make the biggest impact.

Locally, the Tree Foundation of Kern has been working since 1993 to plant, promote and support the urban forest in Kern County communities. This local organization plants trees and advocates and educates citizens about the need for trees in our area. The Foundation has a nursery that grows trees for the organization. These trees are available at low costs to schools, municipalities and other organizations that plant trees in public places.

Over the next year, the Tree Foundation will organize plantings of over 1,300 trees in our region. The group has secured a Bakersfield Beautification grant from the Virginia and Alfred Harrell Foundation, which will allow 50 new potted trees, 33 replacement trees and 24 trees planted in existing tree wells - all downtown. The Tree Foundation will plant 60 new trees along Truxtun Avenue in the median between A and V streets. They will also replace 73 dead street trees in the northwest, and plant 72 neighborhood plantings in the southeast.

The Foundation has worked to secure funding for 90 new trees to be planted in Oildale, Shafter and McFarland through a SoCal Gas grant for air pollution mitigation. Thirteen schools in the Kern High School District will receive a total of 525 new trees through the California Fire Department of Forestry and a Fire Protection & California Climate Investments grant. Nearly 200 trees will be planted throughout 19 City of Bakersfield public parks.

Our local Tree Foundation is pushing to green up this community, and we should show our support. Their efforts may even impact your company’s bottom line.

Perhaps money does grow on trees.

• Chamber mixer No. 1: On Feb. 21, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is hosting a networking mixer at Centro 18, 1517 18th St., from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

• Chamber mixer No. 2:Join the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce for the first After Hours mixer of 2018. Gather with other professionals on Feb. 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at The Station-Kern County Firefighters, located at 7900 Downing Ave., for an evening of socializing, drinks and food by Fresco Mexican Grill.

And check out The Station, a new event venue in northwest Bakersfield, at

• Startup city: Mesh Cowork is hosting an event in their offices at 2005 Eye St., Suite 6, for entrepreneurs called Bakersfield Startup: Growing Business, on Feb. 22 from 6 to 8 pm.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at The opinions expressed are her own.

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