Tracing the Rise of Urban Forestry

By Gangloff, Deborah | American Forests, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Tracing the Rise of Urban Forestry


Gangloff, Deborah, American Forests


The science has come a long way-from tree pits to an understanding of how human and natural systems must thrive together.

In 1982 the science, art, and practice ol urban forestry was relatively new, and the idea that people would consider trees as necessities-vs. niceties-was pretty much unheard of.

When I joined AMERICAN FORESTS 25 years ago in its brand-new urban forestry program, we were planning what would become the second national urban forestry conference (the first, organized by the U.S. Forest Service for researchers, took place in 1978). In 1982 the science, art, and practice of urban forestry was relatively new, and the idea that people would consider city trees as necessities-vs. niceties-was pretty much unheard of.

At that conference in Cincinnati, sessions centered around the need for professional urban foresters, for cities and towns to hire these professionals to manage their forests, and the critical need for citizen groups, like American Forests, to advocate for trees and tree care in cities and towns. We were pushing a shift from looking at the individual tree in the individual tree pit, to seeing the whole forest.

Urban forestry has evolved since then, helped along by our subsequent conferences in Orlando, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Seattle, Washington, DC, San Antonio, and Charlotte. This year we return to Orlando, but the sophistication of the current thinking on urban ecosystems will make this conference all but unrecognizable to urban foresters who gathered there in 1987.

With each conference our understanding of urban forests as urban ecosystems has grown. The seed was planted by Rowen Rountree, a prominent U.S. Forest Service researcher at the 1987 Orlando conference. He articulated the ecological values of urban forests including air, water, and energy, and the agency aimed some of its research expertise at these areas in the years that followed.

In 1995 the conference broadened to reflect this holistic view, with the theme of Inside Urban Ecosystems, and in the spirit of the theme, AMERICAN FORESTS introduced a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tool called CITYgreen designed to quantify ecosystem services. Before the next conference convened in Atlanta in 1999, urban forests were being recognized as green infrastructure in metropolitan areas all over the country. …

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