Urban Forests: Is Quality More Important Than Quantity?

San Francisco, CA (September 19, 2013) – In a recent article, “Champion Trees and Urban Forests,” in Places Journal, Mark Hough addresses the challenges city’s face when setting and implementing ambitious tree-planting programs in the hopes of creating a cleaner and healthier urban environment. Considering the justifications behind these programs, challenges to implementation, and the assumption that planting more trees is always better, Hough concludes that prioritizing the long-term health of trees over the immediate gratification of getting as many in the ground as possible is key to urban forests reaching their potential as environmental hero.

Urban treesHough, a landscape architect who works at Duke University, considers ambitious tree planting programs in cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, and Houston, in the context of the broader global forest. All of these cities have set tree planting goals, in many cases to be met by a certain date.

In Los Angeles, Million Trees L.A. has planted just over 400,000 trees, and with this success have begun to focus more on maintenance. Boston as well, which launched a goal of 100,000 new trees by 2020, has planted only a small portion because of funding shortfalls, as well as having to focus efforts on managing the assault that urban trees are under daily.

Denver has also just announced that it is pruning back its pledge to plant one million trees by 2025 citing lack of funding and several milestones already reached. Read more.

Hough concludes that “By placing so much emphasis on planting a certain number of trees, critical things like design, infrastructure and maintenance risk are getting short shrift.” An urban tree planting project in downtown Boston at the Central Wharf Plaza, which invests in below-ground conditions of streetscapes and plazas to encourage tree survival, is heralded as a model for innovative and effective urban tree planting.

Read the abridged article, “Can Urban Forests Save the Planet?” Read the full article, “Champion Trees and Urban Forests,” in Places Journal.