Magazine article American Forests

Planning for Healthy Trees: Careful Forethought Is Required If a Community Wants to Plant and Maintain a Sustainable Urban Forest

Magazine article American Forests

Planning for Healthy Trees: Careful Forethought Is Required If a Community Wants to Plant and Maintain a Sustainable Urban Forest

Article excerpt

Planning and maintaining trees in a community requires more than just a hole in the ground and occasional watering. The American Planning Association invited nine experts and representatives from AMERICAN FORESTS, International Society of Arboriculture, and U.S. Forest Service to a symposium to help it delineate principles to guide planning for urban and community forestry. The resulting document divided ideas into general, planning, and design principles and outlined some general rules under each. Below we highlight those findings.


Urban and community forestry has grown from the original view of it as an aesthetic amenity that softens the urban landscape to a solution to pressing urban environmental problems. The symposium described five general principles to govern its use in planning:


* Put trees at the beginning of the planning process.

* Know where you came from to know where you're going.

* Seek out private partners.

* Invest in trees; it makes economic sense.

* Make urban forestry financially sustainable.

Put Trees at the Beginning of the Planning Process

Because trees play a vital role in helping communities solve numerous problems simultaneously they need high-priority attention in the planning process. That way it's more likely they'll get proper recognition for how they serve vital functions from managing stormwater and improving urban air quality to improving property values, enhancing quality of life, and lowering building energy demand.

Urban forestry is "big-picture"--a science about the "forest," not just the "trees"--and so must focus on ecosystems that support the forest. That requires a hard look at urban planning policies that support and maintain the trees' health. This can be done by setting goals for the amount of canopy cover a city wants to achieve and maintain. Baltimore, Maryland, worked with the state Department of Natural Resources to set a canopy goal that also would help improve water quality in Chesapeake Bay, a focus of regional concern and an ongoing multistate cooperative agreement.

Know Where You Came From to Know Where You're Going

With environmental issues, it's imperative that you document a community's past experiences to understand what has succeeded or failed and why. To do this, planners need professional foresters and GIS professionals to analyze changes in the urban forest over recent decades. By working together to document the history of the local urban forest as an ecosystem--rather than a collection of trees--foresters and planners can advance public understanding of those parts of the forest where people live and those that come in contact with buildings.

Seek Out Private Partners

In most cities, the majority of the urban forest canopy consists of trees on private property. Although the community has more direct control over municipal lands like parks, these are not the only places where trees appear. To successfully maintain the urban forest and stretch those limited dollars, communities need the continuing support of homeowners, businesses, and leagues of dedicated volunteers in organizations such as local tree trusts.


In Urbana, Illinois, for example, the city splits the costs of trees with homeowners and provides them advice on planting and tree care. Taken to the block or neighborhood level, these programs can get block clubs and community organizations interested in improving the livability of their city.

Business partners can be powerful contributors who offer financing, plant and maintain trees on commercial property, and support civic groups involved in forestry. Nurseries, home and garden suppliers, and tree care firms have a direct stake in urban forestry; others may want to offset environmental impacts especially as climate change policy makes carbon credits a commodity. …

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