School of Public & Environmental Affairs Podcast Series
When we think of a forest, we usually imagine a wide expanse of closely grouped trees forming a dense canopy. But what about small clumps of trees in a city park, or individual trees scattered along city streets and suburban lawns? Do they constitute a forest?
Yes, says SPEA researcher and forest expert Burney Fischer. And urban forests are just as important, and just as interesting, as their more iconic country cousins.
"It's the interconnection of trees and people that's really what's cool," Fischer says. "When I walk into a neighborhood and look at the trees and I quickly come to conclusions about, well these trees have been well cared for or these trees haven't been so well cared for."
In an ongoing study of street trees in his home town of Bloomington, Indiana, Fischer has found that many neighborhoods have a designated tree guy who sets the tone for how trees are cared for.
"They may organize tree plantings, they may be the person who quietly knocks on a door and says you're not taking care of your lawn, including the trees," Fischer says. The tree guy may also be the person who interacts with the city forester. "Bloomington has a city forester, he's stretched very thin, and he'll react sometimes to the squeaky wheel."
Urban forests matter for a number of reasons, Fischer says. For example, houses with trees in their yards tend to sell for more than houses without trees. Studies have found that businesses benefit from trees providing shade and that city trees help control storm water and help cool things down during the hot summer months.
Nevertheless, urban forests are in decline across the United States. To begin to reverse this trend, Fischer hopes that individual homeowners will think about how the way they treat the trees in their yard affects everyone.
"To make a decision that I'm going to remove a tree in my yard to expand my patio may be a personal decision about their patio, but it affects the whole neighborhood. So I would ask everyone to think about the positives of the trees for the neighborhood even though the tree is sitting in their influence zone.
Learn more about urban forests.