When people are overworked or tired, they may take a break by visiting green spaces like forests to relax. But are forests only found far away from cities? Can there be forests inside cities?
Modern cities are concrete jungles, but what if I told you that green forests can also exist within these grey jungles? They are called urban forests.
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What are urban forests?
Urban forests are not acres and acres of lush dense greenery like traditional forests. They range from the trees in the park on the corner of your street to the trees lining the sidewalk, or simply a cluster of bushes in your own backyard!
The idea of care and management for tree populations in urban areas began in North America in the late 1960s and was first called environmental forestry. The greening improved greying cities and soon skyrocketed in popularity. It has now become a whole new discipline of forestry called urban forestry.
How do urban forests make our cities better?
Urban areas tend to heat up because materials like concrete and glass trap and reflect the sun’s heat, while cars and industrial processes generate heat and release heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Urban jungles have the potential to help cities cool down. Canopies created by trees provide direct shade over surfaces that reflect heat. Transpiration from trees can also help bring down the temperature. They can help reduce the costs of winter heating by providing a barrier to wind and limiting snow accumulating during severe weather.
The trees could even help reduce noise pollution to more acceptable levels.
Trees provide an incredibly important form of human comfort. They provide protection from heavy rain and for the urban poor, they are a commonly used shelter, both for sleeping at night and during the day.
We all love to see green shoots sprouting up the tree limbs in monsoon season or the leaves turning red in the autumn. The size and color of trees make harsh urban spaces look prettier and softer.
Urban forests can also be the heart of a city’s social life. We have all heard at least one story about a massive old tree that is in or around our town. Habitats created by urban forests, such as botanical gardens packed with a wide collection of trees and other plants, are treasure troves that can teach us about nature and ecology.
Even at a smaller level, a tiny patch of ground with a few trees can enrich children’s playgrounds (trees are great spots for hide-n-seek) and have a positive impact on the psychological development of children. Trees and urban forests also encourage community interaction: people tend to hang out together a lot more when green spaces are available.
Studies have even shown that businesses near tree-lined streets perform better!
Let’s not forget the ultimate purpose of forests, which urban forests serve quite well. These trees provide the necessary habitats for a wide variety of wildlife that might otherwise have a difficult time surviving in our cities.
How do we incorporate forests into cities the right way?
There are external factors in towns, like pollution and construction work, that make it challenging to design urban forests into cities.
First, how does a city plant and maintain the trees? When urban trees grow old, they must be pruned or uprooted completely to prevent damaging property. Poorly planted trees or species that are inappropriate to the geography can actually be more of a nuisance than a delight. Branches can run into overhead power cables and tree canopies can block people’s view, which could lead to accidents. Urban trees can also cause damage to buildings, due to their roots, and through the falling of whole trees or branches.
However, if we plan waste removal operations in advance, we can handle this issue efficiently; the waste parts can be used for other purposes, such as timber and fuelwood.
Urban forestry can unfortunately be subject to NIMBY (not in my backyard) arguments. Residents with trees may complain of too much shade, leaf litter, low-hanging and falling branches, undesirable seeds, pods, fruits, and bird droppings. The roots of street trees often cause the cracking of roads, pavement and water pipes.
These green patches sometimes face threats from humans too. Urban forests may be used as dumping grounds. Trees can be damaged for a variety of reasons, including deliberate destruction, carelessness, harvesting tree products, and browsing cattle. To tackle this, communities must come together and decide which laws can safeguard urban forests in cities.
So we do need more urban forests?
Absolutely! Rather than taking a day off and traveling to some far-flung hill for greenery, urban forests represent a city-dweller’s easiest access to point nature. Given that, cities need to find more creative ideas to sustain their urban canopy and provide this beautiful resource for their residents!