Green Communities Center

Planning for Urban and Community Forestry

Project Background

The American Planning Association, in close collaboration with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and American Forests (AF), and with the support of the U.S. Forest Service, has prepared a state-of-the-art best practices manual about how urban and community forestry can best be integrated into long-range and current municipal planning activities in the U.S.

The manual is in the form of a Planning Advisory Service (PAS) report, which was distributed to members of the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition and more than 1,000 planning agencies and consultants nationwide that are Planning Advisory Service subscribers.

Project Goals

The following goals were met by this project:

  • Provide the rationale and economics of adopting a green infrastructure approach to planning.
  • Provide guidance on the principles and practice of sound urban and community forestry to a broad set of professional and lay public officials at the local level.
  • Strengthen the relationship between urban planners, urban foresters, water quality and stormwater managers, and professional arboriculturists.
  • Provide an opportunity to exchange knowledge between urban and community forestry partners and urban planners, including allied professions such as landscape architecture and the environmental community.

Planning the Urban Forest: Ecology, Economy, and Community Development

PAS 555

This report addresses the need for planners to adopt a green infrastructure approach and presents the technical means to incorporate trees into planning. Find out how communities can develop urban forestry programs to capture the social and environmental benefits of trees.


Listen as urban forestry experts discuss the importance of establishing and maintaining an urban forestry program. This podcast features the report's general editor, Jim Schwab, AICP, American Planning Association; Cheryl Kollin, American Forests; Jim Skiera, International Society of Arboriculture; and Phillip Rodbell, USDA Forest Service.

Forestry Case Studies

The partner organizations in the project collaborated for several months in an intensive selection process. They examined potential case studies and chose those they thought provided an exemplary nationwide cross-section for illustrating best practices in planning for urban and community forestry. Below are short summaries of the final selections that were included in the final report. Below each summary are some useful links for those interested in examining online materials about the individual communities and their programs.

Baltimore County, Maryland

Baltimore County's once-abundant forests have declined in the face of clear cutting, development, and lack of stewardship. In 2003, a steering committee brought together by the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management undertook the "Linking Communities to the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators" Project to evaluate, protect, and improve the health of the remaining forest land.

Draft Baltimore County Forest Sustainability Strategy

User name: deprm
Password: environment

Baltimore County Master Plan 2010 (see Natural Environment chapter)

Growing Home Campaign: Plant Your Own Tree

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Incorporating Tree Protection in the Development Process

In this college town, tree protection has been fully incorporated into the site development process. Developers are required to submit a Landscape Protection Plan with their site plans and attend a preconstruction conference with the town manager. In addition, developers are required to assign the role of Landscape Protection Supervisor to one of their crew members, who undergoes training and certification by the city, and must be present whenever construction activity is occurring. This requirement also applies to existing single and two-family home renovations where land disturbance exceeds 5,000 square feet and a building permit is requested.

Tree Protection Ordinance for Chapel Hill North Carolina

Ordinances: Key Provisions

Chapel Land Use Management Ordinance, Article 5: Design and Development Standards

Chapel Hill Description of Required Information

Emeryville, California

Urban Forestry and Brownfield Redevelopment

Located between San Francisco and Berkeley, Emeryville has responded to development pressures and the presence of brownfield contamination in an innovative way that includes urban forestry as part of an integrated approach. The urban forest plays a role in the city's stormwater management and redevelopment strategies, and implementation is carried out by a variety of city and county agencies though various programs.

Stormwater Guidelines for Green, Dense Redevelopment (pdf)

Municipal Code of the City of Emeryville, California, Title 7, Public Works (See Chapter 10) (pdf)

Flagstaff/Coconino County, Arizona

Conservation-Based Planning Protects Scenic Open Space and Forests

As a reflection of the residents who value the scenic beauty of the area, Coconino County has adopted a conservation-based comprehensive plan to protect views and open space. Benefits of this plan include habitat protection and predictability. The comprehensive plan supports forest ecosystem health via public involvement, forest treatment projects, and utilization of Firewise building principles. Recognizing the threat from wildfires, the Flagstaff Fire Department devised Hazard Mitigation Best Practices to reduce risk and promote forest restoration. Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership and Ponderosa Fire Advisory Council produced a Community Wildfire Protection Plan for the area.

Coconino County Comprehensive Plan

Flagstaff Fire Department Operational Guidelines Hazard Mitigation Best Management Practices

Community Wildfire Protection Plan

Flower Mound, Texas

Conservation Development and Ecosystem Benefits

Located near the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, the Town of Flower Mound wanted to preserve its rural character and small town scale in the face of development pressures. In order to implement these objectives, the town implemented voluntary conservation development, a Smart Growth technique where developers cluster homes and preserve open space within a defined development site. To demonstrate the environmental benefits of conservation development over traditional development, the town quantified the area's land cover, including the urban forest. The town uses incentives to encourage conservation development to protect its open space, natural habitat, and rural character.

Flower Mound Open Space Plan (pdf)

Flower Mound Master Plan

Ithaca, New York

Planting Technology and Participatory Urban Forestry

Ithaca is the home of Cornell University, and the city's urban forestry program boasts some of the most innovative techniques thanks to the research institution's presence. Through a partnership with university researchers, the city has experimented with forestry technologies such as bare-root planting and structural soils. Citizen participation also plays a major role at all levels of Ithaca's urban forest management, from volunteer "Citizen Pruners" to a citizen-controlled Shade Tree Advisory Committee.

Master Plan for Ithaca, the "Forest City"

The Citizen Pruners

City of Ithaca, General Code, Chapter 306: Trees and Shrubs

Ithaca Tree Works volunteer program

Kansas City Metropolitan Area

Regional Policies for Green Infrastructure

A broad mix of urban and community forestry programs function in the bi-state Kansas City metro area. Efforts vary considerably in their scope, intensity, impact, and level of political and financial support. Still, there is a longstanding community culture that is supportive of parks and forestry, as demonstrated by the 29 member cities in the Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA program, impressive efforts by two tree-focused nonprofit organizations, and strong collaboration among local and state agencies. Emerging regional green infrastructure policies and programs provide an increasingly strong framework to support local forestry programs as well.

Heartland Tree Alliance

Right Tree Right Place Partnership

MARC Regional Green Infrastructure Programs

Missouri Department of Conservation

McDowell Creek Watershed, North Carolina

Regional-Level Canopy Analysis and Watershed Management

Regional and local governments in central North Carolina have been working to improve the water quality of their primary drinking water source, Mountain Island Lake, in the face of intense development over the last decade. In 2003, Mecklenburg County undertook an urban ecosystem analysis to show how the benefits of using natural vegetation, derived from land cover requirements, can address stormwater and water quality needs. The McDowell Creek Watershed Management Plan sets water quality goals, and using the analysis data and tools, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Stormwater Services staff can measure reforestation efforts to see how effective their management plan is and make adjustments as needed.

McDowell Creek Watershed Management Plan (pdf)

Catawba River Basinwide Plan

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Agency Collaboration and Comprehensive Planning for Urban Forests

In Minneapolis, collaboration between different government entities and integration of urban forestry into planning processes and agency programs are yielding a holistic approach to forest management. While the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is the agency responsible for managing public trees, the city recognized that many other departments and organizations significantly impact the urban forest's long-term health. In response, the city crafted an urban forestry policy that increased cooperation between the City Council, Park and Recreation Board, and various city departments. The city is also in the process of tightening the connections between its Urban Forest Policy Plan and comprehensive planning.

City of Minneapolis Urban Forestry Policy (pdf)

Minneapolis Urban Forest (pdf)

Natural Ecology Element, Minneapolis Plan 2004 (pdf)

Olympia, Washington

In Olympia, urban forestry is addressed as a community element on a par with housing, transportation, or economic development. In addition to having its own comprehensive plan element, the urban forest program has two primary implementation mechanisms — the Master Street Tree Plan and the Tree Protection and Replacement Ordinance. To work toward its goals, Olympia has developed a "level of service" approach to achieve street tree planting, tree maintenance, and hazard tree abatement objectives. In addition, the city has received grants to conduct separate projects, including a structural soil demonstration project, a low-income and underserved population outreach campaign, and an anti-tree topping campaign.

Master Street Tree Plan (pdf)

Urban Forestry Manual (pdf)

City of Olympia Urban Forestry web page

Palm Beach County, Florida

Prompted by a significant tree canopy loss from Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne, which battered the region in 2004, Palm Beach County received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct an Urban Ecosystem Analysis. This case study presents how Palm Beach County leaders will use this study's findings and tools as a baseline for urban forestry restoration and, more broadly, to connect future land planning decisions to green infrastructure. The county has an exceptional natural areas acquisition program, which has acquired large tracts of natural vegetation to safeguard this resource. County planners and managers have also targeted specific areas for restoration, increasing tree canopy cover as a best management practice.

Conservation Element of County Comprehensive Plan (pdf)

History and Accomplishments of Palm Beach County Natural Areas Program 1988-2006 (pdf)

Salem, Oregon

Water quality and habitat preservation are the related focal points that bring together a range of programs, ordinances, and plans that address urban forestry in Salem. Trees are an integral part of the protected riparian buffer established along the Willamette River, and the city's stormwater program provides free trees to property owners adjacent to riparian areas. Developers are required to submit tree conservation plans and provide street trees for residential developments, and are prohibited from cutting down significant trees or stands. In addition, the city encourages developers to mitigate water quality impacts through tree-friendly techniques such as restorative plantings and tree planting in parking lots to reduce impervious surface area.

Salem Tree Canopy Analysis

Free Tree Program

Salem Revised Codes: Tree Preservation (pdf)

Salem Revised Codes: Permits, Streets and Public Ways — Trees and Shrubs (pdf)

Landscaping Ordinance (pdf)

Willamette Greenway Ordinance (pdf)

Urbana, Illinois

Urbana's commitment to its urban forest is in plain sight: 95 percent of its parkways are lined with trees. The city has integrated tree planting as part of infrastructure expenditures in its Capital Improvement Plan, and further promotes tree planting through zoning and landscaping ordinances. Urbana also carries out preventive, systematic pruning of trees to avoid branch and tree failure before nuisance complaints or injuries occur. Removed trees and branches find new uses through the Landscape Recycling Center, a program that transforms municipal and private landscape waste into mulch and firewood. That process is self-financed through disposal fees and proceeds from sales of the recycled products.

Urbana Tree City USA

Cooperative "Share the Cost" Tree Planting Program

Landscape Recycling Center

Recycled Products for Sale

The Problem of Declining Urban Forests

Urban forests provide enormous environmental benefits — among them improving air and water quality and slowing stormwater runoff. Yet, tree canopy in many U.S. metropolitan areas has declined significantly over the last few decades. The national organization American Forests has analyzed tree cover in more than a dozen metropolitan areas and documented changes. Over the last 15 years, naturally forested areas of the country east of the Mississippi River and in the Pacific Northwest have lost 25 percent of their canopy cover while impervious surfaces increased about 20 percent. Theses changes have ecological and economic impacts on air and water systems. Communities can offset the ecological impact of land development by utilizing the urban forest's natural capacity to mitigate environmental impacts.

The physical framework of a community is called its infrastructure. These utilitarian workhorses of a city can be divided into two types: green and gray. Green infrastructure includes areas covered with trees, shrubs, and grass; gray infrastructure refers to areas of buildings, roads, utilities, and parking lots. A community can measure the size, shape, and location of its green infrastructure and accurately calculate the public utility functions these areas perform.

For local public policymakers responsible for decisions affecting urbanization, the problem is not solely about getting the city or the developer to plant more trees. It is far more complex, involving every aspect of the urbanization process and balancing gray and green infrastructure. While both gray and green infrastructure are important in a city, communities that foster green infrastructure wherever possible are more livable, produce fewer pollutants, and are more cost-effective to operate. However, balancing the gray with the green can be a serious challenge.

Up until now, there has been no guidebook or manual that provides a clear path to such an understanding. This report addresses the need for planners to adopt a green infrastructure approach and the technical means to incorporate trees into planning. Moreover, this urban planning manual will help urban forestry professionals and advocates understand how they might best interface with the urban planning process to maximize green infrastructure and reduce gray infrastructure costs.

Urban planners, and those in allied professions with whom they often work, are uniquely positioned to influence public policy affecting how the built (gray infrastructure) and natural environments (green infrastructure) are planned and designed to work together.

Planners have an opportunity to advocate for maximizing green infrastructure in a number of ways. These strategic points of opportunity are best employed at two scales of land planning:

1. Adopt a Green Infrastructure Approach to Plan Making

  • Community Visioning, or the development of long-range goals and objectives for the community, which all too often do not include references to trees or green infrastructure.
  • Long-range plan-making, including preparation of:
    • the comprehensive plan (known in some states as the general plan or master plan);
    • sub-area plans, such as neighborhood plans, corridor plans, downtown or central business district plans, or redevelopment plans;
    • functional plans, such as plans for parks and open space, transportation plans (highway, transit, bikeway, and pedestrian plans), community services, and facilities plans.

2. Implement Best Management Practices that Promote Green Infrastructure

  • Preparation of ordinances, regulations, and incentives affecting the siting of buildings, sidewalks, curbs and gutters, roadways, drainage, landscaping, and other physical features, using zoning, subdivision control, and site planning requirements.
  • Review and approval of applications for development, which includes scrutiny of plans for:
    • residential subdivisions;
    • planned unit developments;
    • mixed-use developments;
    • redevelopment of blighted areas;
    • street, sidewalk, and bikeway improvements within public rights-of-way;
    • landscaping plans and plans for neighborhood parks and play lots;
    • community services and facilities plans;
    • urban design plans for streetscapes, plazas, and other public spaces.
  • Preparation of capital improvements programs, which involve the identification, costing, scheduling, and specification of major public capital investments, such as roads, parks, and municipal facilities.

Literature Review

The Planning for Urban and Community Forestry review contains book, article, and government document citations. The list may be considered both a literature review and a resource list for the project.

Texts were chosen for the review based on several criteria, including relevance to the topic of municipal planning, timeliness, and the ability to convey concepts accurately and concisely to an audience of planners.

The resource list is arranged under the following topics: Ecosystem Planning, which includes green infrastructure and biodiversity; Urban Forestry, general information; Watershed Planning; Municipal Planning, broken down further into Comprehensive Planning and Area Planning; Ordinances, Regulations, Incentives; Economic Benefits of Urban Forestry; Social Benefits of Urban Forestry; Environmental Benefits of Urban Forestry, which has the further sub-topics of Air Quality, Water Quality, Soil, and Urban Heat Island.

Each section is arranged first chronologically, then alphabetically by author. This allows the newest material to be viewed first.

Forestry Literature Review (pdf)