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What is Urban Forestry?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 17, 2024
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Forestry is the science of managing forests, plantations of trees, and related natural resources. Some people consider it to be as much of an art as it is a science. Urban forestry is the management of trees within urban spaces. Many cities have green spaces such as small parks or areas of trees that line streets, recreational areas, and monuments. Urban forestry is a kind of forestry that focuses on the location and maintenance of such trees. There are many types of people who participate in, support, or help to plan urban forestry. Such people include city planners, environmental policymakers, and arborists.

Because tree populations in urban landscapes are exposed to elements much different than those that are in the wild, it is important that they are carefully managed and tended to. Furthermore, people who focus on the importance of urban forestry are often concerned with how the trees improve the surrounding environment just as much as they are concerned with how the trees must be protected within the surrounding environment.

Trees can provide many benefits within urban areas. First of all, it is well known that trees and other plants are excellent at cleaning and refreshing the air. Air in urban areas, which is often tinged with vehicle and factory emissions to name just a few pollutants, can be greatly improved by the presence of trees. Furthermore, trees and plants help to naturally cool the air and the earth. This can be a great benefit. Cities are generally made mostly of steel, concrete, asphalt, and glass which reflect and conduct heat. Trees can help to make cities in hot climates and cities in climates with hot summers much more bearable during warm weather seasons.

Because cities can be such harsh environments, trees that are planted therein must be tended, otherwise they may wither and perish. One of the key elements in urban forestry is making sure that trees in urban spaces are planted in soil of acceptable quality and that they have enough space for their root systems to grow. Just as trees must have enough space for their roots to grow, they must also have enough space for their canopies. This means that trees must have enough overhead space so that their branches can extend and reach the sunlight that they need to thrive.

While those who practice urban forestry certainly have many challenged to face, it is clear that the challenges are worth the benefits. Trees and plants in urban spaces are wonderful environmental investments.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Feb 04, 2012

@browncoat - It is amazing all the different factors that need to be taken into account when it comes to forestry in an urban environment.

For example, I always wondered why more fruit trees weren't planted in urban areas in order to provide fruit for people who lived there.

With people always complaining about the price of fresh food at the supermarket, it makes sense to me for them to stick a few apple trees in different neighborhoods and let people pick their own.

But, I hadn't considered the fact that a lot of fruit would end up rotting on the ground, which would require cleaning, and could attract unwanted insects and so forth.

Urban planners need to take that into consideration.

By browncoat — On Feb 04, 2012

@indigomoth - It must take quite a lot of planning to keep the urban trees in Wellington from damaging the buildings and the roads. I know that pohutukawa trees are from New Zealand and I believe there are quite a few in Wellington.

Those trees are notorious in the USA.

They were planted quite freely in San Francisco, since they are lovely, large trees with bright red flowers in the summer, and, more importantly, they grow well near the ocean and in a temperate climate.

But, after about 20 years they had to dig them all back up again. They hadn't planned for the fact that pohutukawa have large, strong surface roots which are more than capable of breaking through concrete.

The trees were smashing through all the sidewalks they had been planted to shade. This was a case where more planning should have been done in the city's urban forestry program.

By indigomoth — On Feb 03, 2012

When I was visiting Wellington in New Zealand a while again, I climbed to the top of Mt. Victoria (which is a very tall hill near the city) and was amazed by how many trees are visible in the city.

They had a little bit of information about it up there as well.

Apparently when the city was founded, they decided to declare large tracts of forest in the hills surrounding the area as being protected.

This was partly to improve the quality of the air and partly to drive up property prices.

The air quality was particularly important for the people of that day since they had just lived through the industrial revolution and wanted to make sure that Wellington did not end up with the same quality of air that major European cities suffered from.

It was an ingenious thing to do, really, since it is still a gorgeous and green city.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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