When you think of an “urban jungle,” you usually think of the tall skyscrapers, crazy traffic, and excessive pollution (especially air pollution) – all the unpleasant things associated with the city.
But how about an “urban forest”? Sometimes, people use the phrases “urban forest” and “forest park” interchangeably to mean one and the same thing. However, there are significant differences between the two.
An urban forest is a collection of trees in a city or urbanized area. A forest park is a park whose main theme is the forest. It has the usual features and amenities of a park, such as paved paths, public restrooms and washrooms, and eateries or food stands. These trees are planted within the park borders. An urban forest, on the other hand, may not have features of a forest park, even clear borders or paths. Trees can be planted everywhere in the city, including along the streets and in industrial areas.
Both urban forests and forest parks play an essential part in the ecology of human habitats in several ways. In addition to beautifying an urban environment and providing habitat for wildlife, urban forests offer other valuable ecosystem benefits, such as air pollution removal, oxygen production, carbon storage, and runoff prevention (helpful for areas prone to flooding).
Here is a random list of cities that take urban forestry to the next level:
Austin, Texas, USA
Austin’s urban forest has over 33 million trees covering around 18% of the city. It has a diverse tree canopy and an urban forest management master plan. Several companies also fund tree-planting projects and campaigns for environmental and energy-saving purposes.
Why is Singapore so green? In 2017, the wealthy city-state had the highest density of greenery among all the other cities, with a Green View Index (GVI) of 29.3%. The GVI is a metric developed to evaluate and compare tree canopy cover. The percentage indicates a canopy coverage of a particular area.
The National Parks Board, the statutory board responsible for managing and enhancing Singapore’s urban ecosystems, plants more than 50,000 trees a year in parks, gardens, and roadsides. There are more than seven million trees in Singapore, including three million trees along the streets, parks, and industrial and residential estates.
Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Ireland isn’t called the “Emerald Isle” for nothing. It boasts vast green spaces in the countryside, so it won’t be surprising that the same can be said for its cities, such as Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital city.
Belfast has become much greener now, thanks to the Forest of Belfast, a pioneering city-wide urban forestry initiative established in 1992. Since the end of The Troubles in 1998, around 200,000 trees have been planted across parks, gardens, side streets, playing fields, schools, riverbanks, and industrial areas. With the help, support, and funding from the Belfast City Council and other European countries, the Forest of Belfast and its partners have been able to help 300 groups plant 90,000 trees in the last three years alone.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Tijuca National Park, established in Rio de Janeiro in 1961, is probably the world’s largest urban forest. It consists of 3,953 hectares of reclaimed land that was previously cleared for coal and coffee production. What is more impressive about this sprawling forest was that it was entirely replanted by hand.
The Tijuca National Park is now home to several nature trails, cascading falls, magnificent viewpoints, and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Not the mention that the park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to diverse wildlife – insects, birds, ocelots, howler monkeys, and other endangered species in the Amazon rainforest.
Washington, D.C., USA
Washington D.C. is one of the most beautiful cities in the USA, thanks to the millions of trees dotting the area. Trees have been part of the District of Columbia’s character and legacy. It all began in 1872 when Governor Alexander Shepherd ordered that 60,000 trees should be planted. Due to his actions, the nation’s capital earned the unofficial title “The City of Trees.”
Today, Washington, D.C.’s urban tree canopy hovers at around 35%, with nearly two million trees planted across the city. These trees help clear 540 tons of pollution every year, store 526,000 tons of carbon, and reduce the energy cost in buildings by $2.6 million every year, resulting in an estimated $96,000 in carbon emissions prevented.
London, England, United Kingdom
Visiting London will always be an unforgettable experience, especially if you crave green urban spaces. Fortunately, the British capital offers a great dose of nature. Around 40% of the city comprises public green space, including 3,000 parks of different sizes. London also boasts 388,400 acres of urban forests comprising more than eight million trees, making the city one of the greenest urbanized areas.
Sacramento, California, USA
The unofficial title of “The City of Trees” also goes to the capital city of Sacramento, California. Tree-planting began during the Gold Rush era when settlers and fortune-seekers realized that the town was scorching hot. Oaks were the only native trees there, but they were cut down to construct homes. Thus, trees were planted for practical instead of aesthetic reasons.
At first, many settlers chose to plant native trees, such as elms, maples, and plane trees. However, exotic trees were introduced and added over the years: Japanese maples, Chinese pistaches, zelkova, and other species such as black oaks, cottonwoods, and sycamores. The decades-long tree-planting has led to Sacramento’s urban forest becoming one of the densest in the country, with trees covering 20% of this 100-square-mile city.
The future of urban forests
Trees and vegetation provide valuable benefits, especially to urban areas, from air pollution removal to climate management. So, to the city-dwellers, let’s think of ways to incorporate trees, plants, and forests into our daily lives so that moving out to the countryside should not be the only option to connect with nature and its benefits.