Urban forestry has been defined as the art, science and technology of managing trees and forest resources in and around urban community ecosystems for the physiological, sociological, economic, and aesthetic benefits trees provide society (Helms 1998). The term was first coined in Canada as part of the title of a 1965 graduate study on municipal tree planting. In spite of initial resistance to the term from foresters (who doubted forestry’s role in urban areas) as well as from other professions traditionally dealing with urban green space, it gradually found a broad following in North America. The emergence of urban forestry has been regarded as a reaction to eminent threats to urban trees—for example, those caused by introduced pests and diseases—which called for more integrative tree management approaches (Johnston 1996; Miller 1997).
Although the term “urban forestry” was introduced to the United Kingdom during the early 1980s, broader acceptance in Europe was not gained until the mid-1990s. While the concept of integrative planning and management of forest and other tree resources soon found support among European experts, implementation of the term proved more problematic, as the equivalent to “urban forest” in many European languages—for example, Stadtwald in German and stadsbos in Dutch—has traditionally referred to forest stands owned by cities and towns (Konijnendijk 2003).
Urban forestry has a broader scope, however, dealing with forest stands as well as groups of trees and individual trees. The British National Urban Forestry Unit has defined “the urban forest” as collectively describing all “trees and woods in an urban area: in parks, private gardens, streets, around factories, offices, hospitals and schools, on wasteland and in existing woodlands” (NUFU 1999). Forest stands within an urban-forestry context have come to be referred to as “urban woodlands” in order to make a distinction with the overall urban-forest concept (e. g. Bell et al. in press; Konijnendijk 2003).
During the first four decades of its history, urban forestry has also been given more normative content, focusing on aspects of multifunctionality and community participation (e. g. Johnston 1996) in an attempt to demonstrate its particular strengths and also its value for practical implementation. A study of the literature has resulted in the following synopsis of the main characteristics and strengths of the urban-forestry concept (based on Konijnendijk 2003):
• Urban focus, recognising and valuing rather than combating the challenges posed by urban societies and urban environments.
• Integrative approach, incorporating different elements of urban green structures into a whole (the “urban forest”), and ranging from technical to strategic dimensions of natural resource management.
• Strategic perspective, aimed at developing longer-term policies and plans for urban-tree resources, connecting to different sectors, agendas and programmes.
• Inter-/multidisciplinary character, involving experts from applied, natural as well as social sciences.
• Multifunctional focus, stressing the socio-cultural, environmental as
well as economic benefits and services urban forests can provide.
• Participatory approach, aimed at developing partnerships between all
The latter two characteristics have been central to the development of urban forestry. The provision of multiple benefits—not least of all, social ones—to local communities is its raison d’etre. In terms of urban forestry’s multifunctional focus, the multiple social services provided by urban forests are given priority. These include, among others, providing outdoor recreational environments and pleasant living and working environments to urban residents, thus contributing to human health and well-being (e. g. Kuo 2003). As mentioned above, various environmental or ecological services related to urban mesoclimate, air-pollution reduction and watershed management have also come into focus. The ecological dimension relates to conserving biodiversity values and representing nature in human-made environments as well.
Through its multifunctional and in particular its participatory character, urban forestry relates strongly to the, perhaps better known, concept of community forestry. Most commonly applied in the rural context of developing countries, community forestry has been defined as any form of social forestry based on the local people’s direct participation in the production process, either by growing trees themselves or by processing tree products locally (Raintree 1991). But community forestry is increasingly also applied to more urban settings, as in the case of the English Community Forest programme for environmental and socio-economic regeneration of twelve large urban agglomerations (e. g. Johnston 1996). Brender and Carey (1998) provide a broader perspective of community forestry, stressing its focus on sustainable forestry for community well-being, and with key attributes that include residents’ access to land and its resources, as well as local involvement in decision-making related to the forest.
Various authors have emphasised the importance of placing local residents (i. e. local forest users) centrally in urban green-space planning and management. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan (1989), for example, mention the importance of close links between people and nearby nature. These links may be “special spots” a person (or group of people) is very possessive about and considers his or her own (Frey 1981; cited in Kaplan and Kaplan 1989). Environmental psychology provides a range of theories, such as that of “place identity” (Proshansky et al. 1983), that give insight into close relationships between people and green space and explain the intensity of social conflicts that frequently emerge, e. g. over the cutting of urban trees. When attempting to define the “woodland component” of the urban forest, Konijnendijk (1999) stressed the dominance of local urban actors and their interests, values and norms in their use and related decision-making processes.