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Urban forests

26 June 2020

2008 was a turning point in history: for the very first time number of urban dwellers surpassed the number of people living in rural areas.


That hyper-concentration of population – towns occupy 2% of the globe’s surface – generates many social and environmental problems and presents major urban management challenges. Sustainable urban management is therefore a priority for living conditions, resource optimization and environmental preservation.


Urban forestry is one of the key levers for urban management challenges and for succeeding in the transition to sustainable cities, notably to lower temperatures.


What is an urban forest?


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “urban forests can be defined as networks or systems comprising all woodlands, groups of trees, and individual trees located in urban and peri-urban areas; they include, therefore, forests, street trees, trees in parks and gardens, and trees in derelict corners. Urban forests are the backbone of the green infrastructure, bridging rural and urban areas and ameliorating a city’s environmental footprint.”


The 17 Sustainable development Goals defined in 2015 by the UN include Goal 11 “Sustainable cities and communities”. This Goal 11 aims to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.


Tools to evaluate the significance of trees in urban area


Many cities in the world have taken up this major issue and have planned to enhance and to develop green infrastructure or to create ex nihilo urban forests. To optimize these projects, it was necessary to inventory trees. Thus, canopy index or urban tree cover (Treepedia) have been developed to help cities to guide planning policies towards sustainability.


Furthermore, Angers, Nantes and Metz have been elected greenest cities in France in 2020 by the Observatoire des villes vertes and the Union Nationale des Entreprises du Paysage (UNEP).


FAO, in cooperation with the Arbor Day Foundation, has also established an international recognition program: Tree Cities of the World. Today, this global network links some sixty cities as Auckland, Dublin, Madrid, New York, Paris, Quito, Toronto or Turin.



With this new series of urban forests articles, we invite you to discover urban operations established to green cities. Projects and examples to follow all around the world to become aware that trees are crucial for cities of today and tomorrow.


Picture 1: Gardens by the Bay in Singapour © All Rights Reserved

Picture 2: Urban tree cover in New York © Treepedia

Picture 3: Forest garden in the François Mitterrand BNF site, Paris © All Rights Reserved


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