Ten Years After: Welcome Back to the Urban Forests of Celje

It has been eleven years, actually. In 2005 the first EFUF in Slovenia took place in Celje, the city with long tradition of urban forests and forestry. Find out more why this year EFUF will return to Celje in this blog by Robert Hostnik, urban forest manager at the Slovenia Forest Service.

Looking back – we had a great time then. As organizers we were impressed by the response of more than 100 experts from 22 countries. They still like to share nice memories with us and rarely forget to mention the anecdote about wine and vinegar. Although not our fault, it was quite embarrassing. If you come this year, you will surely hear about “the vinegar error”. Rather than go into details, I will use it as a metaphor for a short introduction into the development of the urban forests of Celje.

From the noble wine to the sour vinegar

The social functions of the forests near the city of Celje were to a large extent recognized more than a century ago. In 1885 the municipality bought first areas of private forests on the slope above the city and equipped them with new footpaths, benches and pavilions. The forests were popular for recreation and were suitably maintained for the next eight decades.

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One of the entry points to the urban forest of Celje at Meško spring in 1905

The rapid industrialization in 1950s caused environmental problems and forest degradation. It gradually drove forest visitors away. In 1970s, when citizens could afford cars and became more mobile, they started to prefer other natural places outside the city. Regular management of the urban forests was almost abandoned.

New vineyards for the new wine

Fresh impulse for the development of the forgotten potentials of the urban forests of Celje popped up in the 1990s from local forestry experts. The results of their studies, along with the emerging conflicts between the private and public interests emphasized the need for a long-term oriented multiple use of forest management.

The City Council accepted the initiative of the Forest Service and in 1996 confirmed the proposed strategy plan for the development of the urban forests of Celje. Strategy 1996, as it was called, emphasized (1) the protection of urban forests by law, (2) improvement of the ownership structure with the redemption of private forests, (3) adapted forest management, (4) development of recreational and educational infrastructure, (5) public relations and (6) assurance of the stable financial resources.

But not just any wine

In the next decade the strategy was quite successfully implemented. The number of urban forest visitors tripled. The urban forests of Celje became a kind of a role model for other Slovenian cities. Soon the need for upgrading the existing approaches emerged. The Strategy 2006 was more focused on (1) strengthening of governance and users’ participation, (2) branding and popularization, (3) coordination of public and private interests (4) education based on forest pedagogy principles and (5) on further development of infrastructure and equipment for recreation, education and experiencing. The following years brought stronger recognition and even wider popularity of the urban forests.

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The entry point at Meško spring nowadays. Nature education based on the principles of forest pedagogy is one of the key activities of the current urban forest management in Celje.

Dear colleagues, we would be glad to present you with the results – successes and failures – of our urban forest management and projects in the last decade on the EFUF 2016 field excursion. Your feedback will be precious as we are preparing new Strategy 2016 – 2025. We are looking forward to welcome you and I promise that this time we’ll drink only an excellent wine.

About the author: Robert Hostnik works as a forest manager at the Slovenia Forest Sevice. His main fields of interest and expertise are related to the urban forestry, ecosystem services and nature education. For the last 25 years he has been actively involved in the urban forestry development in Slovenia.

Photo courtesy of Osrednja knjižnjica Celje (Rzg 3669) and Slovenia Forest Service.

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Does Money Grow on Trees After All?

How can a city benefit from trees? As calculated by Dan Burden, growing trees might be the best long-term investment for a city – a single street tree returns over 80,000 € of direct benefits in its lifetime. Here’s a quick look at some of the most prominent positions for hiring trees that research has thrown light upon so far.

  1. Trees increase property values

This is not surprising as trees create a tapestry of colour, fragrance and interesting form that changes throughout the year, screen unattractive views and soften the harsh contours of buildings. Trees help residential and commercial properties to rent more quickly and to have a higher occupancy rate. They can add up to 15 percent to residential property value and where the entire street is tree-lined, homes may be worth 25% more.

  1. Trees increase business and commercial activity

An abundant tree canopy can attract new residents, tourists and businesses into a neighbourhood. Studies show that people like to spend more time and money in districts with more trees. In addition, having offices with a view of nature and access to green areas during breaks translates into healthier, more productive and satisfied employees.

  1. Trees reduce energy expenditure

Strategically placed trees around a building can reduce summer cooling costs by as much as 30%, while in winter heating costs can be reduced by a similar percentage with the use of trees as windbreaks. A tree is a natural air conditioner and can produce the cooling effect of ten room-size, residential air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. Neighborhoods well-shaded with street trees can be up to 6-10 degrees cooler.

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Urban trees provide many benefits for a city and its residents
  1. Trees reduce water management costs

Trees reduce stormwater management costs and produce better water quality. They act as natural water filters and prevent harmful land pollutants contained in the soil from getting into our waterways. They significantly slow the movement of stormwater, which lowers total runoff volume, soil erosion and flooding.

  1. Trees reduce costs for meeting regulatory pollution requirements

Trees contribute to meeting a city’s regulatory clean air requirements by capturing more than 60% of the particulate air pollution. They remove dust, particulates, absorb ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. Estimates show that over a 50-year lifetime, a tree provides more than 50,000 € worth of air pollution control. Trees also act as sound buffers and reduce noise pollution by absorbing and blocking more than 40% of urban noise.

  1. Trees reduce health care costs

Trees catch air pollutants that damage human lungs which enhances a community’s respiratory health and ameliorates respiratory problems, such as asthma. They provide protection against ozone-associated health issues. Studies show that hospital patients with a view of trees out their windows recover much faster and with fewer complications. Time spent in nature not only promotes greater physical activity, but also reduces stress, eye strain and lowers blood pressure.

  1. Trees increase security and strength of a community

Trees lower anxious and violent behaviour – the greener the neighbourhood, the lower the crime rate. In homes surronded by trees there is less domestic violence and child abuse than in barren conditions. Trees also create a physical barrier between the street and the sidewalk, keeping pedestrians, children and pets out of harm’s way. Urban nature creates popular meeting places, inviting citizens to spend time together relaxing, walking, jogging or playing. These activities encourage interaction, bring neighbours together and strengthen urban communities.

As shown, urban trees provide a wide array of solutions to a city’s welfare and resilience. A city with an abundance of trees is a rich, sociably stable, safe and healthy city.

Author: Anita Mašek, Slovenian Forestry Institute

Featured photo by star5112.

Active Citizens in Urban Green Space

Across European cities, citizens nowadays play a prominent role in the management of public green spaces, but what does this mean for authorities? Find out more in this blog by Thomas Mattijssen, research fellow at the Wageningen University.

While urban green spaces were traditionally developed and managed by authorities in most of the 20th century, my research and that of many colleagues highlights a stronger involvement of citizens in recent times.

Many local authorities struggle with budget cuts and scarce resources for green space management. This is the reason that policy makers and public officials often tend to look somewhat hopefully at citizens and their activities regarding green space. Expectations are high in many countries, whether we talk about ‘localism’ in the UK, ‘participation society’ in the Netherlands, or look at the policy documents of the European Union. Citizens are expected to be active citizens that take responsibility for their personal living environment.

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Active citizens in urban green space

Many bottom-up initiatives considering urban green space show that citizens can indeed be active citizens – they have proven to be knowledgeable and capable of managing varying types of green space. As research experiences across Europe show, efforts by citizens can lead to positive outcomes and are sometimes celebrated as a success by authorities. However, my own research findings suggest that the majority of citizen green space initiatives are relatively small-scale compared to ‘traditional’ management. Our bias to focus on successes and good practices tends to overlook other examples where citizens are less successful.

In this time of budget cuts, we should reflect on expectations placed on citizens. Cutting budgets for green spaces and simply expecting citizens to take over will usually not work. Although citizens can certainly contribute to the management of public green spaces in urban settings, there is a danger of ‘instrumentalizing’ citizens – expecting them to achieve policy objectives of authorities. Citizens are not always interested in being involved in green space management, nor always equipped to implement it, and they might have different objectives than the authorities.

I believe that rather than instrumentalizing citizens, we should try to look more from their point of view. Instead of trying to enlist citizens in the management of green space, authorities and other parties involved in its management would do well to start with looking at existing grassroots initiatives.

Albeit small scale, some existing initiatives can realize important social and environmental effects with relatively little resources. Yet, current research shows that many local green initiatives struggle with collecting resources and often receive relatively little support from authorities. I believe that a little investment from authorities in supporting such groups can potentially realize important local effects with relatively little means.

With this blog post, I plead to see citizens’ green space initiatives as a local addition to management, rather than as a replacement. Authorities cannot just expect citizens to take over, however, they can probably benefit from the existing energy that citizens invest in the development and management of urban green space.

This blog post is authored by Thomas Mattijssen and is a part of the #EFUF2016 blog competition.

Featured photo by East Hudson.

Urban Wildlife: Our Non-human Neighbors

Animals are a lot smarter that we think and will always find an opportunity for a free lunch. A process of animals adapting to urban life is called synurbization. The phenomenon that has emerged in the last few decades raises new challenges for wildlife managers.

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A view from my office: a roe deer resting in the landscape park Tivoli, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib.

Over the Hedge (2006) is one of my favorite computer-animated films. The main character of the story is RJ the raccoon. He shows the great piles of food that humans consume and waste to wild animals and asks them: “Why bother with foraging for food when we can just steel all the ‘yummy’ food from humans?” And then the trouble begins… 🙂

Cities all over the world are becoming home to a great variety of wildlife species, which became part of our everyday life. Most of the species became so common that we can’t imagine cities without them – think about the pigeons in the City of Venice. Feeding squirrels and birds in the city park Tivoli is one way that citizens of Ljubljana are maintaining contact with wildlife and interact with the natural environment.

Wildlife species need food, water, shelter and space to survive. They like the abundance of food in fields, orchards, gardens, parks and other urban ecological islands. So it is not surprising that wild animals are attracted to urban settings. And yes, disgusting as it may seem, human garbage is also a source of ‘free lunch’ that comes on a daily basis. While we enjoy the sight of bees feeding on flowers, we are not that thrilled to see a fox or a crow (or even a bear) going through our trash.

Cities provides water all year round, coming from various sources such as ponds, puddles, drainage ditches and fountains – oases where even in the hottest summers urban wildlife can find bathing and drinking water. In addition to food and water, the urban environment is an endless provider of cover where wildlife seeks protection, raise their young, nest or just rest. Most people don’t even notice all the opportunities where animals find their little hiding places. Well, at least until we don’t find out that we share our attic with a colony of bats or noisy dormice.

For humans, sharing urban environment with wildlife is acceptable until we don’t feel threatened or our possessions get endangered. When it comes to reducing human – wildlife conflicts, first a sound monitoring and management system has to be established. An urban wildlife manager has to understand the biology and ecology of a species and its interactions in an urban settings.

We manage wildlife with direct population reduction and by modification of animal habitat through habitat factors described previously. Somebody once said: “Wildlife management is, at its core, the management of people“and I couldn’t agree more. The concept of hunting animals is not highly acceptable among people who are living in cities. When we decide to kill or remove a problematic animal from an urban area, we also disturb a part of society that is worried about the pain and suffering of the animals. The key to managing wildlife populations in urban settings is habitat manipulation. Wildlife managers have to see the urban environment not just from anthropocentric aspect, but also from the ecological point of view.

When planning for urban greening and for urban forests, think about the wild animals living in the city!

Saša Vochl, Slovenian Forestry Institute, Department for Forest and Landscape Planning and Monitoring