Back in Celje After 10 Years – EFUF 2016 Day Two Recap

After a decade EFUF returned to the city of Celje for a brief visit! Find out what we’ve been up to on the second conference day in our latest blog post.

Attendees of the EFUF 2016 were warmly welcomed in Celje, “the city of counts and princesses”, by the mayor Bojan Šrot. He has expressed his honour and pride in that, since first hosting EFUF in 2005, Celje has become a role model for urban forestry in Slovenia. He has been aware of the potential that developing the brand “Urban forest of Celje (Mestni gozd Celje)” can offer the city and its residents and has been strongly supportive of the efforts of Slovenia Forest Service towards establishing it. Damjan Oražem, director of Slovenia Forest Service, continued that in their unceasing endeavors they have gathered years of valuable experience that can now be passed on to other Slovenian cities.

Thursday, June 2, 2016: Conference Day 2
EFUF 2016 in Celje (Photos: Urban Ušeničnik)

The second day of EFUF 2016 was characterized by lectures and discussions on the potential and ability of urban forests and green infrastructure in making cities and their parts more attractive and visible. This common thread was established at the very beginning by keynote speakers Robert Hostnik and Alan Simson. They expressed that branding urban forests is a long process involving a lot of cooperation, a risk that should be taken, as the rewards are bountiful and worth every effort. Their lectures were followed by many constructive presentations, offering a lot of applicable solutions and practical tools (such as lighting and different assessment tools) for making cities and their forests more visible and visited, which can highlight the many services they provide and attract further investments.

It is worth remembering that “cities are like magnets – they can attract or repel”. Magnetic cities look and feel better, attract people and investments. And urban forestry has much to contribute to making our cities more ‘magnetic’, as it has the knowledge to make the urban environment a quality green environment. To achieve anything worthwhile communication and networking are essential – using any means possible to connect with authorities, stakeholders and people, and forming networks, partnerships and events to share knowledge, information and experience.

After the indoor part of the Forum’s second day we went to stretch our legs a bit and paid a visit to the Urban forest of Celje and its lovely tree house – the trip was full of surprises, delicacies, good mood and… vinegar free 🙂 We shall remember our visit to Celje as a very instructive (at times even challenging) experience and fun all the same – a real treat for all of our senses!

Authors: Anita Mašek, Špela Planinšek and Saša Vochl; Slovenian Forestry Institute

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.

EFUF 2016 Report: First Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting

In April 2016 the First Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting took place! Missed it? No reason to worry – find out all about it in this new blog by Dr. Andrej Verlič, head of the EFUF 2016 organizing committee.

The First Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting took place between April 6 and 8, 2016 in Zhuhai, China. It was hosted by FAO, the Urban Forestry Research Centre of the State Forestry Administration of the People’s Republic of China, and the City of Zhuhai. It was a major event, attended by about 200 delegates from 17 Asian countries, Europe and North America, who represented around 60 government institutions, NGOs, universities, international organizations and professional associations.

The meeting explored the role of urban forestry in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Representatives from various region countries shared their experiences, case studies and information on the status of urban forestry in their homelands.

rsz_2rsz_1dsc_0212_3
Delegates of the First Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting 2016 (FAO Photo Archive)

Divided into five working groups, delegates on the last day examined the role of urban forestry in health and wellbeing, cultural heritage, green economy, urban planning and provision of ecosystems services. The meeting ended with a round table, where the main challenges for development and inclusion of urban forestry in the region were discussed: knowledge sharing, capacity building, education & research, awareness raising, advocacy and funding sources.

On the last day of the meeting, the Zhuhai declaration was unanimously adopted. The declaration is submitting eight recommendations for consideration and awareness raising, by which delegates are conveying their willingness to work together with policy- and decision makers, practitioners and other stakeholders.

The declaration is sending a message to national and local governments, international organizations, funding agencies, universities and research institutions, NGOs, civil society, urban forestry specialists and practitioners, urban planners, private sector and local communities, expressing delegates’ concerns, calling for action, proposing solutions and reaffirming delegates’ belief that forests and trees in and around cities are the key element to make cities in the Asia-Pacific region greener, healthier, happier and more resilient to climate change. Hopefully, the message of the First Asia-Pacific Urban Forestry Meeting will get across.

Author: Dr. Andrej Verlič, Slovenian Forestry Institute

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.