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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“It’s a walk in the park” A green solution to lower air and noise pollution

Is there a green solution to lower air and noise pollution on your daily commute to work? Find out in this blog by Dr. John Gallagher, a post-doctoral researcher (Civil and Environmental Engineer) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and Bangor University.

Have you ever thought about the route you take to work? Could you take a better route? What is a better route? I ask myself these questions when I make my commute to work every morning. I have realised that we are creatures of habit, and we consciously or perhaps unconsciously like routine. What are we missing out on due to routine?

Our city parks for example, a valuable resource that provides us with green zones and offers a place to escape from the fast pace of urban life. Yet, do we take advantage of them during our daily commute, where they are available on our route? They can provide a much greener alternative to a busy roadside footpath, but is that the only benefit? What about lower noise levels and better air quality? Perhaps this is not a priority for many of us?

Research proved a long time ago that the closer you are to the source of pollution, the greater the exposure. At least the existence of a barrier between the source (car) and receptor (us), can reduces the level we are exposed to on a daily basis. Anything from parked cars, hedgerows and trees can help protect us from the nearby source to some degree. Trees along the outer edge of the park creates a baffle to protect those inside from direct high levels of noise and air pollution. Use that to your advantage, take a walk in the park!

roadside and park
Parallel routes – roadside and park paths.

From a noise pollution perspective, as part of a study that was undertaken in 2015 by myself and colleagues, we examined paired routes (one roadside path and one parallel park path) around Hyde Park in London. Hyde Park is a perfect example of a city park to enjoy the green space as part of a commute. Comparing the results between routes showed a reduction in decibel levels due to a combination of increased distance from the road, plus the presence and density of vegetation. Other research studies have shown similar benefits for air pollution.

Despite these results, approximately half the number of pedestrians walk along the roadside footpath as opposed to the parallel path in the park. The next question to answer is how to change behaviour? And who should take responsibility to help change this routine behaviour?

Next time you’re walking through the city, consider this “is this the best route for me to have a more tranquil and less polluted trip?” Taking a diverted route through your nearby park may not increase your journey time, and even if it does by one minute, avoiding the highest roadside levels of noise and air pollution from traffic might be worth it. Enjoy a healthier, greener route in your area and consider changing your routine by changing your route.

Author: Dr. John Gallagher, Bangor University, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Civil, Structural & Environmental Engineering