A More Perfect Union: Planning in Urban and Community Forestry

In a time of mounting threats such as shrinking budgets and climate change, cross-disciplinary collaboration is more important than ever to create thriving communities. This collaboration is a key tenant of the newly unveiled National Urban Forestry Ten-Year Action Plan, facilitated by the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC) and the U.S. Forest Service. This plan is designed to catalyze new partnerships while guiding researchers, planners, and on-the-ground decision-makers in growing the tree canopy where we live, work, and play.

Thoughtful planning is a core component of maximizing the social and environmental benefits of urban and community forests. Integrating trees into planning processes for transportation, housing, and infrastructure at the local and regional scale maximizes co-benefits and makes the best use of scarce financial and human capital resources.

Planners and urban foresters Collaborate

Planners and urban foresters have long shared key objectives, including social justice, education, community resilience, and implementing policies and ordinances that help communities retain a high quality of life for their residents. Over the past decade, planners and urban foresters have worked together in:

  • Promoting and advocating for diversity, equity, and leadership. Since 2007, the U.S. Forest Service, Davey Tree, and other partners have supported underserved communities in assessing and planning for their urban tree canopy through the free i-Tree suite of tools. In addition, over the last 10 years 37 states have increased the number of communities with urban forestry staff, building capacity at the local level to care for our urban canopy;
  • Increasing awareness and capacity to include trees in community resilience planning. The U.S. Forest Service is working to support communities in assessing and planning for tree health in the face of natural disasters, working with partners to develop i-Tree storm which provides means for communities to assess widespread storm damage in a simple, credible, and efficient manner. It is adaptable to various community types and sizes and information on the time and funds needed to mitigate storm damage. In addition, U.S. Forest Service personnel served as technical experts and reviewers for Housing and Urban Development's recent National Disaster Resilience Competition, which granted nearly $1 billion to states and communities to grow their resilience through innovative strategies, including installation of green infrastructure and complete streets;
  • Developing educational campaigns like Project Learning Tree to change people's attitudes and behaviors towards urban and community forests. This program has provided environmental education activities focused on trees and forests to more than 200,000 educators, helping to educate pre-K–12 students about the importance and value of trees in our lives;
  • Increasing the establishment of community forestry management plans by 70 percent;
  • Catalyzing a 58 percent surge in community tree policies and ordinances, with significant rises seen in New York, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii;

The National Urban Forestry 10-Year Action Plan celebrates these accomplishments and the integral role planning plays in maintaining and growing our urban forests. It also serves as a framework for future collaboration, articulating shared priorities in which foresters, planners, and other allied professions can frame our work to increase our collective impact in protecting and growing the forests just outside our door.

Download the 1-page executive summary and view the complete plan at www.urbanforestplan.org.

Top image: Photo by Joel Prince.

About the Author
Jasmine S. Napier, MPH, is a Presidential Management Fellow and Natural Resource Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.

April 29, 2016