EFUF 2016: Day One Recap

The exciting first day of the European Forum on urban forestry 2016 is behind us! We have gathered today’s highlights for you in our new blog post.

More than 80 researchers and experts in urban forestry and green infrastructure from all over the world gathered today in Ljubljana at the venue of Ljubljana Castle to attend EFUF 2016, organized by Slovenian Forestry Institute, Slovenia Forest Service, the City of Ljubljana and the City of Celje.

Wednesday, 1.6.2016
First day of EFUF 2016. Photos: Urban Ušeničnik

“How to build cities that support life?” was the opening question of the EFUF 2016. Today the spotlight was on building the hosting city of Ljubljana, the European Green Capital of 2016. The city’s representatives presented efforts and achievements in environmental protection that could keep the city of Ljubljana green, healthy and beautiful; now and in the future.

The introduction was followed by keynote speakers: Cecil Konijendijk van den Bosch, Clive Davies, Tara Zupancic, Simone Borelli and Natalie Gulsrud. They touched the subject of the past and future development of urban forestry. Once urban forests were mostly parts of a city with an aesthetic value for the city residents, but today their numerous ecosystem services are gaining more and more recognition. Higher levels of governance and management can play an active role in green infrastructure development, using different means to encourage city municipalities to build greener and more sustainable cities. If urban forestry was once only a Western concern it is not anymore; it has turned global and is growing strong in the developing countries. Prominent speakers also defined the term ‘resilience‘, the main theme of this year’s EFUF, and together with valuable contribution from GREEN SURGE and LIFEGENMON projects presented different aspects of resilience: from governance and management to public health and biodiversity.

As we are recognizing the many benefits of urban forests and green infrastructure, we realize they might be the solution to many of our ‘urban’ problems. In the words of one of the speakers –“The green pill is all around us” – and there has never been a better time to invest in urban forests than now.

EFUF 2016 continues tomorrow, moving to the second venue in the city of Celje. You will hear more from us soon, so stay tuned!

Author: Anita Mašek, Slovenian Forestry Institute

Advertisements

Urban Forests: Natural Air Conditioners

What are urban heat islands and how do urban trees perform air conditioning services? Find out more in this blog post by Ana Simčič, a forestry engineer from Slovenia.

What do you prefer in a summer afternoon – a walk in a crowded city center or a walk in a forest? I’m sure everyone gets relieved when after a hot walk a tree shadow appears in front of them, waiting to cool them down and let them breathe a bit fresher summer breeze. Dense canopies certainly provide a much needed relief in hot summer hours.

Every city that is surrounded by forests or comprises forested fragments can be grateful for the effects they bring, especially in the summer time. Forests mitigate and moderate heat by absorbing less heat than neighborhood concrete areas and buildings. Trees lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evaporation of water from the soil and leaves.

The extra heating load that comes with replacing natural vegetation with buildings, streets and sidewalks, has been recognized many decades ago. Cities are often warmer than surrounding rural areas – a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island effect”. It is caused by the absorption and storage of the sun’s thermal energy in urban infrastructure (steel, concrete or asphalt). A heat island forms over an urban area and is like a large bubble with higher temperatures than the rural surroundings. The phenomenon is common in large metropolitan cities, but it’s also noticeable in smaller cities like Ljubljana. The temperature differences between forested areas and urban environments are most pronounced during heat waves. When temperatures in urban concrete areas are near dangerous to impair human health, neighborhood green areas provide conditions that are more human friendly.

as
Urban heat island effect, caused by solar energy.

Recreation in summertime is much more healthier in forested areas, where air is less polluted. A dense canopy of healthy trees can reduce the effects of air pollution associated with increasing urban temperatures. Air pollution is a serious public health threat linked to asthma, migraines, respiratory and heart diseases and most of them get especially pronounced during summer heat waves.

as2
A picnic in the shadow of the trees.

Trees also save energy by shading our homes and paved surfaces. Mature trees can significantly reduce summer air conditioning use by shading the sides of our homes that are exposed to overheating. In autumn, deciduous trees lose their leaves and allow us to solar heat our homes and reduce winter energy use.

Heat tires everyone – people, animals and also plants – that’s why a walk in the forest is always a good decision. In the forest, the air is more humid, temperatures are lower and the canopies protect us from harmful UV rays and sunburns. If we don’t forget a bottle of cool water, there is a pleasant walk in front of us despite the high temperatures outside of the woods.

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

Featured photos by WeatherQuestions and FHWA.

Green Divides in Cities Are Also Health Divides

What is the cost of losing everyday contact with natural spaces in favour of more urban development? Find out more in this blog by the #EFUF2016 invited blogger, Tara Zupančič, MPH.

I was twelve years old when I first visited Slovenia. I spent my summer on the mountain where my father grew up. Among 300 acres of trees, I would love to watch the mist lift from the valley floor into the ether. My soul felt alive there, and like many people, I have grown to depend on nature to hoist my spirit, provide refuge from the heat, and restore my sense of home on this planet. So when I tell people that I study the relationship between nature and health, I’m often met with an incredulous look. Isn’t it well established that nature provides the very foundation of human health? My head bobs yes, as I explain myself.

The push for research on the health benefits of nature is related to our increasingly urban existence. Competing needs for roads, houses, and industry can easily overtake greener pastures. Nature is typically viewed as something beyond urban borders and not part of our daily city life. As cities expand their borders to house the majority of the world’s population, we need to ask, what is the cost of losing everyday contact with natural spaces in favour of more urban development? In the face of competing land use needs, is a stand of trees that important?

Despite advances in health care, our lifelong health is largely determined by our social and economic position and the settings where we live, work, and play. A strong and growing body of evidence shows that everyday contact with urban nature is critical to our well-being and is significantly associated with healthier births, as well as reduced mortality, obesity, chronic disease, depression and anxiety. Access to nature is especially important for children and is significantly associated with increased play, physical activity, and cognitive and motor development.

thinkBig_edit

Unfortunately, the ability to enjoy the benefits of nature often falls along social and economic divides, deepening health inequalities in cities. This means that poor health, disproportionately borne by those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, is compounded by greater environmental burdens where they live. For example, a European systematic review showed that socially disadvantaged children commonly suffer from multiple and cumulative health burdens related to poor quality housing, greater exposure to traffic and industrial pollution, and a lack of healthy, natural spaces where they live. These children are more susceptible to harm from adverse environmental conditions because they often lack protective factors such as adequate nutrition, opportunity for play and essential health care.

Tackling health inequalities is a major global health priority, and ensuring equitable access to nature must be part of that strategy. While exposure to nature can benefit everyone, there is consistent evidence that the benefits are strongest among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.

The association between green space and reduced mortality has been found to be strongest in the most socioeconomically deprived urban areas. Increased green space exposure also appears to decrease the effect of income deprivation on all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. Multiple studies on green space exposure and birth have found that the strongest positive associations are found among the most socially disadvantaged. It is not clear why these stronger associations exist but emerging evidence suggests that nature may provide a buffer from difficult life circumstances, and be protective against stress as a setting for emotional, physical, and social support.

The benefits of everyday contact with nature are vast and there is a need to ensure that this nurturing from nature is not determined by a person’s wealth, income, or ability to leave the city. Time in nature is an essential right of childhood and sets a critical foundation for lifelong health. As an increasingly urban planet, we need to configure our cities to maximize nature in every nook and cranny and guarantee everyone is free to benefit from it. Instead of planning the apportioning of trees amid sprawling cites, there is an opportunity to plan vibrant cities amid great forest canopies. Our health depends on it.

Studies referenced:

Bolte, G., Tamburlini, G., & Kohlhuber, M. (2010). Environmental inequalities among children in Europe—evaluation of scientific evidence and policy implications. The European Journal of Public Health, 20(1), 14-20.

Brown, S. C., Lombard, J., Wang, K., Byrne, M. M., Toro, M., Plater-Zyberk, E., … & Pantin, H. M. (2016). Neighborhood Greenness and Chronic Health Conditions in Medicare Beneficiaries. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

James, P., Banay, R. F., Hart, J. E., & Laden, F. (2015). A review of the health benefits of greenness. Current epidemiology reports, 2(2), 131-142.

About the author: Tara Zupančič, MPH is the Founder and Director of Habitus Research in Canada.

Exceptional Trees: Ambassadors of Nature Conservation

Exceptionality and extraordinariness have always excited us, such as exceptional trees that have survived several human generations. With their special characteristics these individual trees or tree groups stand out from the average, instill respect and arouse admiration. Find out more how protection of exceptional urban trees can contribute to the promotion of urban forests and raise nature conservation awareness in this blog by Janez Kermavnar.

The expression ‘exceptional (heritage) tree’ refers to trees with outstanding traits. There are different categories of exceptional trees, depending on the criteria used. Trees of exceptional dimensions (usually thickness and height) are the easiest to spot. Some of trees can be designated as worthy of preservation due to their age, aesthetic quality, historical and cultural significance, particular treetop shape or unusual trunk form. Other trees stand out due to their exceptional rarity or non-nativity, while some trees are special because of their peculiar position. Many exceptional trees have interesting stories or even secrets. The more a tree’s physical appearance is eye-catching and magnificent, the more spiritual symbolism is attributed to it. That’s why so many exceptional trees are connected to myths and legends.

gingko
A wonderful gingko tree, creating a priceless scenery for citizens.

Exceptional trees can be found in densely forested landscapes and in urbanized areas. Because exceptional trees growing deep inside forests are less noticeable than similar trees in urban spaces (parks, streets), exceptional trees growing in cities could play a more prominent role.

I did a quick research on exceptional trees in the City of Ljubljana. According to the register of the Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation and the inventory of tree heritage, there are approximately 110 trees recognized as valuable natural features in the City of Ljubljana. Most of them are of exceptional dimensions (beech trees, oaks, non-native species …), officially protected by the municipal decrees from the early 1990`s. Protected trees are divided into those of national or local importance and are located on public or private properties.

The country of Slovenia is intersected by important natural areas. It owns a few truly notable and well-known trees that had been given special attention and importance. One of them is the highest spruce tree in Europe – the Sgerm spruce on the Pohorje Mountains with 62,3 m! Exceptional trees are spatially well-defined spots. Unlike Natura 2000 sites, where some habitat areas are protected, so it seems, just to create disagreement (due to restrictions) between public and private interests. In this I see the biggest problem regarding nature conservation.

chestnut
Visiting a remarkable chestnut tree in an urban park.

Taking care of important parts of nature is becoming increasingly popular. Exceptional trees are natural monuments and a living proof how extraordinary nature really is. By highlightning their presence throughout educational trails we can raise public awareness about the importance of nature conservation. Exceptional trees are not only ambassadors of nature conservation but, ultimately, also the interface between conservation and urban forestry.

This blog post is authored by Janez Kermavnar and is a part of the #EFUF2016 blog competition.

Featured photos by The Bode and Tim Sheerman-Chase.

Resilience

We put forest trees back into our urban landscapes, not the way they were before, not the way they have evolved to exist, but according to our needs and our designs. Find out more in this blog by Naomi Zürcher.

The topic Resilient Cities has prompted me to sit back and get analytical. Most of us know what a City is – the attributes as well as the downside. I have lived in a City for most of my entire life – 70 years mostly in New York but also Mexico City and now Luzern Switzerland. The 3 represent a good sampling of cities and diverse city life.

But, what about resilience? If one looks at the Oxford definition of resilience, one finds the following:

  1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness;
  2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

While I would never equate a city itself with resilience given all the layers of Governance, what a city does do is demand resilience from everything that resides within it. Envisioning a city’s residents, I can think of none that better represents the definition than the urban trees that reside in a city’s Urban Forest.

Historically, almost all of our urban trees originate in a Forest somewhere in the world. In order to understand the underpinnings of our urban trees and the extent of their resilience, we first have to understand the where and what they came from:

  • Forests are a Process of Succession, of Evolution.
  • Forests don’t happen in a day, a week, a year. They occur over millennia, beginning with the specific soils they populate.
  • Forests are a sophisticated, highly-developed community of trees and all their associates – other flora, fauna and, most importantly, soil containing a healthy soil microbial community, providing the nutrients, macro and micro, all associates in the Forest community depend on.
  • Forests evolve in direct relationship to their environment – temperature range, the soil’s pH and the availability of light and water will all dictate what is growing and where – edge or interior.
  • Although a Forest may consist of many different species of trees, space above ground is shared in competition while space below ground is shared in community.
  • Forest soil is always covered by plants, leaf litter or other organic Forest debris – a constant renewing and recycling of organic nutrient resources.
  • Trees grow with their root crown – their buttress roots – above the soil line; all parts of the tree that are covered with bark are always above the soil.

So, here are all these trees, growing in a Forest community somewhere and along we come!!!

43. Curbside trees cartoon
We plant our public trees into hardscape coffins.

First, we built roads inside the Forest creating new edges, introducing sunlight to the Forest floor, where it never was before. Then we cleared the land and evolved through cultivating it into urbanizing it. Now that most of us are living in cities, we’ve decided we want to put these Forest trees back into our urban landscapes, not the way they were before, not the way they have evolved to exist, but according to our needs and our designs:

  • When we plant inner Forest trees out in the landscape, the above ground competition is now gone and with it the space restriction on the spread of the tree’s branches, resulting in a much larger crown which, when not thought about before buying the tree, usually results in the wrong tree being planted in the wrong place – requiring either constant, excess pruning or the unnecessary and premature removal of the tree.
  • We plant trees out in the lawn ignoring the competition turf inflicts on trees, both above and below ground; as a heavy feeder, grass deprives trees’ roots of essential moisture and nutrients, thus impacting and reducing tree root development.
  • If we don’t plant our trees in lawn, then we plant them where the soil is bare and we leave it that way, diminishing the soil food web and leaving trees without the renewable nutrient resources they must have.
  • We use construction equipment to build a project within a treed landscape, not realizing what we are doing to the soil and those important absorbing roots found within the top 30cm of soil; construction activities on unprotected soil usually compacts the entire underground landscape, making it inhospitable for trees’ roots. Healthy soil contains pores for air and water. Compaction crushes the pores that hold air and water. Roots cannot live in soil that has no air or water so existing roots begin to die and new ones will not grow.
  • We plant our public trees into hardscape coffins in an inaccessible, inadequate soil volume and we expect those large canopy trees to thrive and provide all those wonderfully beneficial Ecosystem Services.
  • Because the landscape underground is out of sight, it’s usually out of mind, leading to trees being planted in impossible growing conditions – too deep, in the wrong type of soil, in compacted soil or in an inadequate amount of soil to support the tree’s rooting needs – and then we blame the tree or the nursery we bought the tree because it didn’t survive or do what we had expected.

The fact that our urban trees, given their genetics and evolution, have found ways to deal with everything our cities and the new, very dynamic associate – us – inflict on them, one could, without any hesitation, give them the resilience award of the century. They not only embody the very spirit of the word “resilience”, they endure.

It behooves us – scientists, researches, academics and practitioners – to afford the powers that be an enhanced understanding of what City life could be if we, in the midst of all our urban UN-naturalness, recognized that when you plant a tree, you begin an entire universe so why not begin it tree -positive and really create a Forest in a then resilient city.

Naomi Zürcher is an independent Consulting Arborist and Urban Forester as Arbor Aegis and is involved with the current COST Action GreenInUrbs  project.

Photo courtesy of the New Yorker Magazine.

 

Is Urban Forestry a Risky Business?

Is urban forestry a risky business? Find out in this blog by the #EFUF2016 invited blogger, Prof. Dr. Cecil Konijnendijk van den Bosch, professor of urban forestry and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening.

Having been an urban forestry researcher for about two decades now, I have had the pleasure to attend many different conferences and seminars across the globe. Not all of them are as good and rewarding as the annual European Forum on Urban Forestry, obviously, but there is always something one learns and takes home.

During the last week I was at the 2nd Urban Tree Diversity congress in Melbourne, Australia. Over 300 participants discussed the many aspects of tree diversity, from selection and resistance to pests and diseases to the diversity in links between people and trees. At the conference we spoke, as always, of the many benefits of urban trees and urban woods. However, it struck me once again how we urban foresters sometimes tend to be almost ‘apologetic’ in terms of the risks associated with trees. In our research and practice we have often focused on minimising risks in terms of e.g. tree and branch failure. Many books and articles have been written about hazard trees, visual tree assessment, branch failure, storm damages, and so forth.

11440400525_f40db33a7c_o_d
Is urban forestry a risky business? Photo: Brian Yap

At a seminar at the University of Sydney after the Melbourne conference, my Australian colleague Ian McKenzie raised this issue of our biases view on risk related to urban trees. Ian is somewhat of a ‘rare bird’, by the way, as he is both an arborist and a local politician. When he spoke of our problematic relation with risk, and the way other professions look at urban forestry primarily as a ‘risky business’ (or rather: a risk-minimising business), I realised that we urgently need to turn things around, in the minds of politicians, the public and other professionals, but also within our own field.

It is risky for a city NOT to have trees. When walking the streets of Sydney as well as many other cities, some streets can be scorching hot – and these are typically those streets without trees. Thus one is exposed to the risks of succumbing to heat and higher vulnerability to skin cancer in tree-less environments. City governments have the statutory obligation to provide us with basic infrastructure, clean water, safe roads, etc. They are also responsible for enhancing public health. So why should it not be seen as a duty for them to provide us with canopy-covered walkways and cycle routes, where threats to our health because of radiation, pollution, stress etc. are minimised?

Time for a paradigm shift, perhaps? Something to discuss at the upcoming European Forum on Urban Forestry, in Europe’s Green Capital of Ljubljana. The overall theme of the Forum fits well, as we will discuss the contributions of urban forests to resilient cities. To me, resilient cities are also vibrant and healthy cities, offering safe and attractive places for people of all ages to live, work and play. Resilient cities are also cities where the small risks of trees or branches falling and hitting someone are far outweighed by the crucial benefits of trees. Urban forestry is not a risky business, it’s a pure necessity.

Author: Cecil Konijnendijk van den Bosch, PhD

Featured photo by Brian Yap.

A warm invitation to the European Forum on Urban Forestry 2016

The Slovenian Forestry Institute, the City of Ljubljana (European Green Capital 2016) and the Slovenia Forest Service are hosting the 19th European Forum on Urban Forestry conference with the lead theme “Urban forests for resilient cities”. The Forum will take place in Ljubljana and Celje, Slovenia, from May 31 to June 4 2016.

The European Forum on Urban Forestry (EFUF) is an annual event that started 19 years ago. It provides a meeting place for practitioners, scientists and educators involved with the planning, design and management of urban forests – from woodlands to urban parks and street trees. Participants come from across Europe, as well as from other parts of the world – this year, scientists from North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and others are registered to participate.

A_Verlic
Dr. Andrej Verlič, Head of EFUF2016 Organising Committee

Each Forum takes a general and a few specific themes where urban forestry can contribute and discuss. This year’s themes are the resilience of cities, public health and well-being, governance and management of urban forest and trees, and how they could bring the city to a spotlight – the promotion of a city. The first edition of the EFUF was held in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1998. The cities that hosted Forum are Aarhus, Budapest, Durham, Trondheim, Arnhem, Stockholm, Celje, Florence, Gelsenkirchen, Hämeenlinna, Arnhem, Tulln, Glasgow, Leipzig, Milano, Lausanne and Brussels.

The 2016 EFUF will be held in the City of Ljubljana and in the City of Celje. In Celje they are going to demonstrate the development of their local urban forestry since first hosting EFUF in 2005! You are going to enjoy the venue of Ljubljana Castle, an eminent location on top of the forested hill in the centre of the city, visit the city forests, parks and other green infrastructure and get to know some of the brilliant nature-based solutions that brought Ljubljana the title of European Green Capital for 2016. In Celje, you will visit their city forests, learn about the development of the brand Mestni gozd Celje (Town forest Celje) and see the most enchanting forest tree house in Slovenia. There’s more – you will take a boat cruise on Ljubljanica river from the very center of the City and visit some magnificent regional parks in Slovenia on the Saturday excursion. Which ones? Stay tuned – it’s still a secret 😉

We know that there are many interesting things happening in cities and around them all over the world and many new scientific evidence has been collected during the last decade. We want to bring those in the spotlight – at the conference or on this EFUF 2016 blog. Why not take advantage of both opportunities and share your achievements, ideas, solutions or examples?

On behalf of the Organising Committee, I warmly invite you to join EFUF 2016 in every possible way – on Facebook, on Twitter, write and comment on the #EFUF2016 blog and present your paper at the conference in Ljubljana!

Dr. Andrej Verlič, Slovenian Forestry Institute

Blog-title-Verlic
A view from Ljubljana Castle. Photo: Mark Doliner