Most urban forests were not planned,
they just happened. This does not mean that they cannot or should
not be planned, but rather that we should learn from the clues and
lessons found within these naturally occurring urban forests. The
majority of all communities have “open-space” plans,
park and recreation plans, and – to some degree – street
tree programs. Seldom are these plans coordinated or comprehensive
with respect to urban forest resources.
Three basic questions should be addressed with any planning effort:
What are the objectives; what is being planned; and who is responsible?
The complexity of urban forestation becomes readily apparent as
answers are sought to these questions.
• What are the objectives?
It is of utmost importance to determine what a community is willing
to do to achieve the desires of its objectives. Objectives may be
singular in nature or multifaceted. Either objective may result
in multiple benefits. For example, simply planting an urban forest
can greatly enhance its immediate surroundings with improved air
and water quality, among other things. A more complex objective
will have a more diverse and widespread impact, but both are beneficial
within the community at different levels.
• What is being planned?
The nature and composition of the urban forest has been described
in a number of ways. The following is an adaptation of an encompassing
definition developed by the Washington State Department of Natural
Resources: “The urban forest is the land in and around areas
of intensive human influence, ranging from small communities to
dense urban centers, that is occupied or potentially occupied by
trees and associated natural resources. Urban forest land may be
planted or unplanted, used or unused, and includes public and private
property and street, transportation and utility corridors.”
This is a compelling definition, because it not only describes what
the urban forest is but also what it might become.
When dissecting this definition, the urban forest is not simply
street trees and parks, but rather an ecosystem that includes soil,
water, animals, utilities, buildings, transportation systems, people
and of course, vegetation. Vegetation includes all plants –
woody and herbaceous – regardless of where they are growing;
private yards, parks, school grounds, etc.
• Who is responsible?
In general, planning should be a participatory process. However,
someone needs to assume responsibility. The lack of responsibility
can and will hinder a comprehensive approach to urban natural resource
planning. However, the issue of responsibility needs to be addressed
on many levels; ownership, regulatory authority, investment, management
and the establishment of policy.
Because of its implication with respect to control, ownership is
a very critical point. The extent to which ownership is privately
or publicly held will directly determine investment and management
strategies as well as public policy. The assumption is generally
that the higher the population density, the greater the percentage
of publicly owned urban forest.
In dense urban areas, public trees represent a significant portion
of the urban forest. Therefore, in these communities, the health
of the urban forest is highly dependent on the level of public commitment
and investment. Wide-reaching and strongly supported urban forestry
programs are a key component in “green“ infrastructures.
On the other hand, privately-owned urban forest resources depend
on regulatory mechanisms for protection and enhancement. Regulatory
mechanisms include things such as zoning codes and landscape and
tree ordinances. Since ownership tends to increase with decreased
density, this would support the need for regulatory techniques.
Regardless of density or ownership issues, communities need to develop
a publicly supported urban forestry program and establish appropriate