The Urban Forest of the Future: How to Turn Cities Into Treetopias
By Alan Simson
The 21st century is the urban century. It has been forecast that urban areas across the world will have expanded by more than 2.5 billion people by 2050.
The scale and speed of urbanization has created significant environmental and health problems for urban dwellers. These problems are often made worse by a lack of contact with the natural world.
With research group the Tree Urbanistas, I have been considering and debating how to solve these problems. By 2119, it is only through re-establishing contact with the natural world, particularly trees, that cities will be able to function, be viable and able to support their populations.
The creation of urban forests will make cities worth living in, able to function and support their populations: Treetopias.
This re-design will include the planting of many more urban trees and other vegetation – and making use of new, more creative methods. Although we didn't fully realize it at the time, the 1986 Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, a building that incorporated 200 trees in its design, was the start of more creative urban forestry thinking.
This has been carried on in Stefano Boeri's Bosco Verticale apartments in downtown Milan, which incorporates over 800 trees as part of the building. Similar structures are being developed around the world, such as in Nanjing in China and Utrecht in The Netherlands.
The urban forest needs to be designed as a first principle, part of the critical infrastructure of the whole city, not just as a cosmetic afterthought. We know for example that in 2015, urban forest in the UK saved the NHS over £1 billion by helping to reduce the impact of air pollutants. In 2119, we may well look back on this present time as the equivalent of the Victorian slum.
Trees can create places which can greatly improve our health and well-being. Our urban forest can give us the spaces and places to help manage our mental health and improve our physical health. Research has indicated for example that increasing the canopy cover of a neighborhood by 10% and creating safe, walkable places can reduce obesity by as much as 18%.
Cities Built on Trees
As rural areas become less productive as a result of climate change, cities – which previously consumed goods and services from a large hinterland – will have to become internally productive. Trees will be at the centre of that, contributing to the city energy balance through cooling, regulating and cleaning our air and water flows, and ensuring that our previously neglected urban soils function healthily.
Urban forests could also provide timber for building. We have a history of productive woodlands in the UK, yet alternative construction materials and a growth in an urban population with less knowledge of forest management means that the urban forest is rarely viewed as productive. We are now recognizing the potential productivity of the urban forest, as campaigns to stimulate homegrown timber markets and achieve more efficient management efficiencies are proving to be successful.
Furthermore, economic growth is still deemed to be the prime symbol of the effectiveness of a city, but we need to be equally aware of other invisible values. This will open up new approaches to governance. Governance needs to embrace all forms of value in a balanced way and facilitate a new vision, considering how trees can help create livable cities.
As the urban population rises, we need to get better at understanding the breadth and diversity of the values held about our urban forest. Individual people can hold several distinct values at once, as urban forests may contribute to their wellbeing in different ways.
The current guardians of our urban forest, mainly local authority tree officers, spend much of their time managing risks rather than maximizing the opportunities of trees. They often receive complaints about trees and tree management, and it can sometimes be difficult to remember that people do care about trees. We need to develop viable partnerships between tree managers, community members and businesses to support trees in our cities.
Although the canopy cover of cities worldwide is currently falling, this is not the case in Europe, where it is increasing. Many European countries are acknowledging the fact that we have over-designed our towns and cities to accommodate the car, and now it is time to reclaim the public realm for our people – either pedestrians on foot or on bicycles.
Creative developments like the Hundertwasserhaus are not the only answer to creating Treetopia. We are and will continue to plant more street trees, urban groves and informal clusters of trees in our parks and green spaces. Treetopia has begun.
Alan Simson is a Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Forestry at Leeds Beckett University.
Disclosure statement: Alan Simson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
This story originally appeared in The Conversation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- Floating Urban Garden Coming to New York City This ... - NYC ›
- 5 Reasons This Clearcut of Nearly Half a Million Trees Is a Horrible ... ›
- Nation's Urban Forests Losing Ground - EcoWatch ›
- This App Plants Trees When People Make Lower-Carbon Choices - EcoWatch ›
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
- San Antonio, Texas Unveils Largest Highway Crossing for Wildlife in ... ›
- Wildlife Crossings a Huge Success - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Climate Change Will Be Sudden and Cataclysmic Unless We Act Now ›
- There's a Heatwave at the Arctic 'Doomsday Vault' - EcoWatch ›
- Marine Heatwaves Destroy Ocean Ecosystems Like Wildfires ... ›
By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
- Biden Likely Plans to Cancel Keystone XL Pipeline on Day One ... ›
- Joe Biden Appoints Climate Crisis Team - EcoWatch ›