New Perspectives for Urban Forests: Introducing Wild Woodlands

Cecil C. Konijnendijk

Danish Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning

Nature, forests, trees and cities

Although antagonists by definition, nature and cities have had a much more complex relationship. Urbanisation has meant that natural areas have become cultivated and often overexploited and that nature has been re­moved as a dominant factor in the daily life of an increasing number of people. But this also triggered a longing to get back to nature and a desire to bring nature back to cities. Nature, though often in a cultivated form, was seen as having its place in cities and towns, for example, for aesthetic reasons. This notion was supported by ancient Greek and Roman civilisa­tions, and later also during the Renaissance. During the era of Romanti­cism, more “pure” and untouched forms of nature were also sought (e. g. Lawrence 1993).

Increased threats to natural areas also led to the emergence of the na­ture-conservation movement. In Europe, this movement had its roots in the cities of the second half of the 19th century, where artists, scholars and the bourgeoisie undertook actions to preserve the remnants of once abundant natural areas. Often these early nature conservationists directed their atten­tion towards forests close to cities and towns. Well-known examples are those of Fontainebleau, south of Paris, the Zonienwoud at the borders of Brussels, and the Sihlwald near Zurich (Konijnendijk 1999). In the case of Fontainebleau, which had gradually become a “Parisian promenade” after a railroad connection with Paris had been established, a group of painters and artists raised concerns about the many threats to the forest. This group, known as the School of Barbizon, raised awareness about the high natural and cultural-historical value of Fontainebleau and helped extend its pro­tected status (INRA 1979).

But efforts to protect remnants of forests in and near cities date back even further. European “city-forest” history has many examples of city

Kowarik I, Korner S (eds) Wild Urban Woodlands.

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005, pp 33-45

administrations undertaking efforts to preserve nearby forests, primarily for the benefits of their residents. Examples are those of the Eilenriede Forest near Hanover, the Sihlwald close to Zurich, and Epping Forest of London (see Konijnendijk 1999 for these and other examples).

Forests and other tree resources have played a key role throughout the development of European cities and towns. Over time they have had dif­ferent functions, starting with the provision of food, fuelwood, timber and fodder during medieval times. They provided the nobility with much – appreciated nearby hunting areas. Later their aesthetic and recreational values took priority, as forests and parks offered “healthy” options for spending increasing leisure time, and trees helped beautify grim urban liv­ing conditions. The environmental functions of trees in terms of providing shade, moderating the urban mesoclimate, helping to reduce air pollution, and protecting water resources have partly been known for some time, but are very much in focus today (Miller 1997).

With the large majority of Europeans now living in urban areas, policy­makers are stressing the importance of sustainable urban development, and of a high quality of urban life and urban environment (e. g. European Commission 1999). More structured attention to urban nature and to natu­ral processes as integral parts of cities dates back more than twenty years (Goode 1995). The development of urban ecology (e. g. Duvigneaud 1974), for example, was one of the first of several integrative approaches aimed at the development and management of urban green structures.

Urban forestry was introduced as one of these integrative approaches, having gradually obtained a broader scientific and practical following. Ur­ban forests as city-wide structures of all tree stands and individual trees were then introduced as important tools for maintaining or bringing back nature and “the wild” to urban residents’ doorsteps. But what does “wild” mean within an urban-forestry context? The chapter discusses how careful consideration needs to be given to the relationship between people and trees when defining and working with “the wild urban woodland” as a con­cept.