The Elements of Sustainability in Urban Forestry

By Richard Thompson, Norman Pillsbury, Richard Hanna
San Luis Obispo, CA (July 1, 1994)- The goal of urban forestry is to design and efficiently manage public and private lands in and adjacent to urban-forested landscapes to be ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable. Sustainability, in this context, should imply programs that yield desired environmental and economic benefits without inefficient, wasteful design and practices. Clearly, sustainability is fundamental to urban forest programs. Unfortunately, sustainable urban forest ecosystems are not commonplace because the necessary programs require careful, long-term design and planning. This report provides basic suggestions of how to manage and design sustainable urban forest ecosystems.

Elements of Sustainability
Four core areas capture the state-of-the-art science and technology in designing and managing sustainable urban forest ecosystems. These areas are:
* Species Selection and Diversity
* Inventory and Landscape Planning
* Tree care and Wood Utilization
* Public Relations and Support
Species Selection and Diversity is important because species that are not carefully selected with the planting site and environmental effects in mind often result in interference with city utilities, hazardous fire landscapes, high tree maintenance costs, a short life, and even air quality problems (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1993, Cerulean 1986, Corchnoy et. al. 1992).
Inventory and Landscape Planning is important because understanding how the urban forest landscape is composed and distributed provides important information on tree maintenance cycles, the effects on other city services, the forest structure and composition for pest/pathogen “spread” models, strategic planning and budgeting, and the urban forest landscape for public interactions.
For Tree Care and Wood Utilization, proper care, maintenance, removal, and planting of urban trees, including associated shrubs, is an important milestone on the road to sustainability. Unfortunately, due to poorly designed maintenance programs, tree maintenance and removal work are often seen as a cost-center, creating the image of urban forestry as a “money-pit.” Urban forestry cannot tolerate such costs, nor a “cost-image.” Through the use of sustainable species selection and utilization of urban forest residues, tree maintenance operations can be financially sustainable and, in some cases, profitable.
Public Relations and Support is extremely important because for an urban forestry program to survive and grow, program leaders must pursue both city government support and citizen/ private sector support. Another valuable approach is to educate the urban forestry staff, including the field crew, on the long-term value of high quality, on-going public relations. There is no substitute for developing good public relations in the community.
Any program that aspires to achieve the long-term goals of urban forestry should possess these certain key elements.
Related Resources:
The Elements of Sustainability in Urban Forestry