How safe are urban forests?

Urban forests and green spaces should be safe and calm places. But is this really so? Read more in this blog post by Ana Simčič, a forestry engineer from Slovenia.

Cities that are surrounded by forests and have more green areas provide more quality lifestyle for their citizens. Recreation in urban forests and other green areas is one of the most appreciated and desired forest services in urban area. Jogging, walking or just hanging out with friends in urban forests is popular spending of free time during afternoons and weekends. But where more people gather, it is more likely that there will be undesired impacts left. Unfortunately, those impacts are sometimes consequences of violence that is called vandalism. It is an action involving deliberate destruction or damaging public or private property. It is a common phenomenon in public places in cities but apparently it is also inevitable in urban forests. In most cases things that are attacked by vandals are sign boards, picnic places with benches and tables, bins and also plants. But it becomes scary when vandals decide to damage trees.

My aunt once said that she is afraid of forests, because they are dark quiet places, where you can run into strange people. I thought it was so funny and was thinking that forests are probably more afraid of us than we are afraid of them. And this is not that funny anymore. Forests can live without us, but we can’t live without them. So why should they be afraid of us?

Crikvenica
Damaged wooden bench in urban forest of Crikvenica, Croatia (photo: Ana Simčič)

Vandalism is common in public areas during night or in places that are not so crowded during the day. The widespread popularity of outdoor team sports in green spaces offers many opportunities to improve health and fitness, build strong community links with young people, burn off excess energy, develop a sense of pride in physical skills and ability. It is a key element in the reduction of juvenile crime and vandalism. But still, urban forests are usually quiet, shaded and cover big areas so vandals have many locations to hide and do the damage. Unfortunately, trees are defenseless and can be an easy target for vandals. Whether the damage is caused by someone who is deliberately trying to kill a tree, or by lovers or taggers carving their initials into the bark, the end result is the same.

tree_trunk
Damaged urban tree

Sensitive layers of tissue lie just under the bark of a tree. This area should be protected from wounding, since wounded tissue provide an opening for pathogens and result in tree diseases.

Vandalism leaves many consequences:

  1. Fear of crime. Crime, the fear of crime, disorder and anti-social behavior in green spaces are some of the things that worry people and discourage them from using those spaces for relaxation and recreation.
  2. Investors are discouraged from the investments in new infrastructure if there are problems with vandalism or if there are abandoned areas nearby.
  3. Urgent replacement costs of broken items.
  4. Ruined aesthetics of landscape. Damaged items will give us a feeling of abandoned and dangerous place.

Vandal behavior of just a few offenders may affect all visitors in urban forests and other green spaces. We all want to enjoy nature to release our everyday worries. When we come to forests our worries should be gone and not feeling even more stressed because of damaged surroundings and injured trees.

This blog post is authored by Ana Simčič and is a part of the #EFUF2016 blog competition.

 

 

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