What is Urban Forestry?

Tanner Haid | October 19, 2021 | 10 min read

One Tree Planted’s New Specialist Explains

My name is Tanner Haid, and I am One Tree Planted’s Director of Urban Forestry. A bit of a hypothetical question here, but what came first: the town or the tree? Even at it’s oldest, civilization as we know it began around 3,000 BC. In contrast, the earliest trees date back to 400 million years ago. Not much of a contest, and that’s the point. How do we honor the living legacy of forests and the vital ecosystems they create within the context of our modern, 21st century communities?

When we think about our towns and cities, we are blessed with opportunities for reimagining and redefining our relationships between local forests, our built environments, and ourselves. We need roads to get us to our jobs, hospitals for our health & well-being, and affordable housing to sustain us. Coincidentally, trees can also be a source of job creation, wellness, and a means to create a home.

We don’t have to choose between urban communities and green urban spaces. We can have both.

And that’s where I come in.

Tanner in front of tree, teaching onlookers how to plant trees.

Above: Tanner teaching volunteers how to plant trees.

what is urban forestry?

At its core, the term urban forests refers to the trees we live with - from individual street trees and urban greenspaces to shady school groves and suburban forests. Each one different in tree species and size, yet all linking together to form urban forests. They are powerhouses for providing ecosystem services such as air pollution removal, stormwater pollution capture, carbon sequestration, green infrastructure, and urban heat regulation, and as such are essential green infrastructure for any healthy, vibrant community.

Urban forestry is the act of maintaining, protecting, and in One Tree Planted’s case - planting - urban forests. All within the backdrop of a rapidly changing urban landscape.

Why is urban forestry important?

  • More people than ever live in urban areas. By 2050, 68% of the world’s population - more than 6.5 billion people - will live in urban areas, including nearly 400 million people in the United States alone.
  • People in these areas need a livable environment. Over 90% of the world’s population live in communities where air quality levels do not meet World Health Organization standards. And it’s not just clean air they need, but cool air. The combination of hard surfaces radiating heat, tall buildings blocking the wind, and loss of trees create what’s known as the urban heat island effect. Without trees, our hot cities will continue to get hotter, less livable, and more dangerous, with urban heat waves already killing upwards of 1,300 people per year in the United States, and even more globally.
  • The climate is changing. Simply put, human-induced climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying”.  This July 2021 was the hottest month on record. We must act now by planting trees in the communities that need them most to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from endangering the lives of our most vulnerable populations.
  • Trees are part of the solution. Just one large, mature canopy tree can sequester (i.e. store in its wood) about 22 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Also that year, that same tree will produce 6,000 pounds of oxygen and absorb 1,000 gallons of rainwater, all while improving community aesthetics and increasing residential property values by up to 10%. Imagine what we can do with a whole forest...

Trees and forests - and the benefits they provide to us - will be more important than ever for growing populations that need healthy communities and a livable environment.

But our history of environmental and social justice in the United States has already placed some communities at a disadvantage. Data shows that low-income and communities of color have 41% and 33% less tree canopy, respectively, than whiter, more affluent communities. More must be done to help all communities achieve tree equity: a future where trees are planted where they are needed most for the benefit of all people, regardless of class or race.

One Tree Planted seeks to address environmental justice and help achieve tree equity by supporting communities with reaching their urban forestry goals, especially as it relates to tree planting in neighborhoods that need them most.

Tanner plants tree
Volunteers gather around new tree planted in front of house
Man and woman plant starter plants at base of tree in urban environment

Top left: Tanner plants tree in Gillette Stadium at 9/11 Patriots Memorial. Bottom left: Volunteers plant trees in their neighborhood. Right: Volunteers at community planting event in NYC plant around established trees.

Here are three easy steps for taking action to support urban forestry initiatives

  • Explore the data. No tool quite captures the importance - and attainability - of tree equity as American Forest’s Tree Equity Score map. Want to plant trees but don’t know where they will have the biggest impact? This tool has the answers you need to get started.
  • Share your ideas. You’ll be hearing more from us about urban forestry, but we also want to hear from you. In fact, urban forestry is all about you. It is about people and communities coming together to share ideas and take action. Contact us with your ideas for how we can best support your community’s urban forestry efforts.
  • Take action. Volunteer to get your hands dirty at a local event, or become a Tree Ambassador and receive our guide to help you organize, fund, and lead your own local tree planting initiative!

Transformative actions - such as achieving tree equity - require transformative thinking. Which brings us back to our opening question - what came first: the town or the tree?

Answered best by Kenton Rogers with Treeconomics, “perhaps it’s time that we should stop thinking about the trees in our towns, and actually consider the towns in our forests instead.”

As you consider that, take a moment to plant a tree through our Fund for Urban Forestry. We work with communities across the globe to make a positive environmental and social impact through reforestation. 

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Urban Forestry

16 states. 24 cities. 27 projects. The Fund for Urban Forestry works to ensure environmental justice by providing funding to a diverse mix of city-centered projects for communities in need. Learn more

Planting trees for Urban Forestry will contribute to:

  • Reducing the effect of dangerous urban heat islands
  • Providing green spaces for communities most in need
  • Enhancing air quality to improve human health
  • America's cities need trees. Trees in cities provide countless benefits for local communities - from reducing urban heat, to increasing access to urban green spaces, to protecting clean air & water, and much more. Unfortunately, trees are not distributed equally: communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by climate change, and need urban trees now more than ever. This fund will provide for 27 planting projects across 24 of America's cities, supporting the health and livelihood of millions.

    From Phoenix, Arizona to Detroit, Michigan - from urban wilderness in Portland to the streets of New Orleans still facing the impacts of Hurricane Katrina - this first selection of coast-to-coast urban forestry projects will result in the planting of nearly 11,000 new urban trees.
  • Donations to this project will support a fund that benefits all 27 projects. Urban reforestation projects require larger, hardier trees (as opposed to the seedlings planted in most of our large-scale projects) to contend with city environments and ensure their survival, meaning they fall outside of our 1-to-1 funding model. Each tree planted across these projects typically falls between $25 to $900. By utilizing a fund model, we can ensure that each project meets its goal to deliver much-needed impact across America's cities.
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates on our Urban Forestry projects, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • Each of the 27 projects will be planted with a biodiverse mix of locally grown trees appropriate for urban environments. Trees planted will include deciduous trees like Oak, Maple, Honeylocust, American Linden, Redbud, as well as evergreens and a variety of fruit trees.

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