Magazine article American Forests

Jill Jonnes: Author of “Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape”

Magazine article American Forests

Jill Jonnes: Author of “Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape”

Article excerpt

JILL JONNES is an author and historian, with a Ph.D. in American history from Johns Hopkins University, whose books tell the stories of visionaries who developed and integrated new kinds of infrastructure into cities. In "Urban Forests" Jonnes writes about the people who created lush urban tree canopies, and the trees they introduced - what we now understand to be green infrastructure. As Jonnes learned how essential trees are to city living, she founded the Baltimore Tree Trust and is very proud of that, as the organization has already planted more than 1,000 street trees in once-barren neighborhoods.

What led you to want to write a book about urban forests?

Knowing that almost 80 percent of Americans live in cities, and with climate change upon us, I felt we all needed to know the story of our urban forests. After all, trees in cities are one of the few ways to cool the air. Most of us are very aware of the built urban environment, but we experience the equally important grown urban environment intuitively. And, as we now know through accumulating science, urban trees do far, far more than create shade. City trees are outstanding multitasking civil servants: saving energy, cleaning polluted air, absorbing storm water, raising property values and, I suspect, most importantly, promoting human well-being. And, equally important, they make our cities beautiful. So, my goal was to tell the history and stories of the urban forests that surround us and open people's eyes, but most of all, to inspire citizens to activism.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing urban forests today?

The fact that too many urban experts - including environmentalists - have never even heard the phrase "urban forests." They are not aware of the ground-breaking science that shows all the "ecosystem services" that urban trees deliver. Nor are they familiar with the growing body of public health research that confirms how essential trees are to human well-being. Until those who plan, design, build and maintain cities recognize the vital importance of trees and nature in the cityscape, trees will always be an under-funded afterthought, rather than the integral part of cities that they should be. After spending eight years working on my book, "Urban Forests," I have concluded that we do not need just to plant more trees, we actually need to start pulling up concrete and retrofitting our cities with nature.

If you weren't an author, what would you be? …

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