Citizens like urban, lush parks because they reduce stress, cool the air, and make the concrete jungle a little more beautiful. If one lives in a city, one wouldn’t think too much of forests apart from their importance to the environment—especially if the forests are thick.
But, no matter how near or far they are, forests play a crucial role than most city dwellers realize. Previous studies have shown that faraway forests are significantly advantageous in regulating water, biodiversity systems, and global climate. Basically, they’re going to improve quality of life and health, particularly the ones living in cities.
Improving overall health and wellbeing
We all know this one: trees and greenery around us make any city much a better place to live. With them around, we’re clearer of air pollution, we can freshen up our minds, we have shades around to keep ourselves cool during unbearable heat. But here are some detailed points as to why they’re great for city residents—with good care and maintenance, of course.
Air quality improvement and the ability to change cities’ microclimate
Temperatures within cities are often hotter than the areas surrounding them. This can increase smog and ozone, fluctuations in water and energy demands, and the risk of illnesses and deaths caused by heat.
Urban trees and forests can cool the air via evapotranspiration. So, trees pull water from the soil, and then release it through their leaves into the air. Cities benefit from evapotranspiration as it makes cities more comfortable as well as reduces the risk of heat-related problems for citizens.
Therefore, it’s important in urban settings that trees are spread well so that the neighborhoods can reap the benefits.
In Toronto, for instance, urban planners mapped the greater metropolitan region’s forest canopy cover as an effort to integrate forests with essential infrastructure in the city. As a result, areas with high forest canopy cover (greater than 70%) has lower-than-average surface temperatures. On the other side of the case, places with low canopy cover tends to have above average temperatures.
Furthermore, poor air quality is often linked with cities, especially the big ones. This can also cause deaths, and it’s more prevalent in cities of lower-income countries.
Therefore, there should be more urban forests or parks that can improve air quality, as they can help remove and reduce air pollutants. However, the planning and managing must be done carefully and should be combined with plans to reduce pollutants at their source in order to maximize the benefits.
Because if city planners simply plant trees here and there, it won’t lead to maximum results. in a lot of cases, even the most extensive and well-managed urban forests can only remove less than one percent of a city’s pollution.
Supporting pollinators, helping urban food supplies
According to a report by WRI and Pilot Projects through the Cities4Forests initiative, around 35% of global food production comes from 800 plants that rely on pollination by insects and other animals. That’s where forests come in: they provide habitat for these pollinators. When there are more trees and forests, it means that there would be an improvement in food security.
Less risks of diseases
Similar to what this study suggests, the loss of forests or forest degradation can exacerbate the spread of diseases that comes from the wildlife to humans, like the current coronavirus. When we conserve and maintain the high biodiversity of forests, wet or dry, then viruses and other infectious diseases transmission can decrease.
More clean water and reduced water-related risks
Clean water is becoming an issue in many cities. Some also struggle with flooding, erosion, weather droughts, and unstable precipitation patterns. This problem may decrease with the help of forests and trees.
Preventing floods with forests
We see more floods lately and how devastating they can be. Well, according to the WRI report, forested watersheds near cities are able to regulate water flows and help relieving floods and landslides.
Forests store and intercept rainwater, reducing stormwater runoff. This can happen due to the trees’ roots that act like a sponge. When there’s too much water, they hold it in the soil and release it slowly during drier periods.
Within cities, other urban plants and vegetation can complement infrastructure designed for reducing floods, like storm drains.
Better water supply
Lack of clean water due to drought, dried up ground water, or reduced river flows affects many cities around the world, particularly in the drier parts of the world.
When we’re more active in preventing deforestation and restoring forests, it can increase soil infiltration and groundwater recharge.
Now, it should be noted that reforestation can actually reduce water supply because newly planted trees grow fast and need a lot of water. However, it’s only at the beginning. So, restoring forests should also consider forest structure, tree species, and overall balance.
Nonetheless, in the long run, more trees and more forests can improve water supply in cities.
Biodiversity improvement in forests = more benefits for cities
As briefly mentioned before, biodiversity is good for forests because it makes forest ecosystems more resilient. And no matter how far and near they are, they provide aids that are essential and important for city dwellers.
Reliable carbon storage
Native forests, the undisturbed ones, store more carbon for longer than monoculture vegetation or degraded forests. Other than that, forests that are high in biodiversity have more resilience to pest outbreaks and diseases, making them a more reliable carbon sink.
Biodiverse, native forests in watersheds are also more effective than planted monocultures at supplying water resources to downstream cities because of their structure, impact on soils and greater resilience.
Moreover, when the levels of biodiversity are high, the forests can be a biological protection. When an ecosystem has many species fulfilling similar roles, it can continue to function even during the toughest of challenges like diseases that can wipe out an entire species.
And in cities or areas with problems of invasive species, more biodiverse forests can also solve those. Parks or manmade forests tend to have more invasive species than the ones in rural, outside-of-city-bounds regions.
The role of cities in protecting forests, far or near
The WRI report proposed that for nearby forests, cities should work with regional and national governments as well as private landholders to manage the forests better.
They can start mapping watershed forest distribution and identifying where forests are being lost. Then, they can boost initiatives that prioritize conservation and restoration. For instance, cities could prioritize restoration of degraded lands to reduce runoff and improve downstream water quality.
Cities can finance such initiatives by clarifying that forest protection and management are eligible infrastructure expenses that must be treated as such.
As for forests that are far from cities, the report suggested cities to understand the consumption of food and ingredients that will risk forests, like soy or palm oil that could leave a negative impact. By establishing relationships with organizations with expertise in forest conservation, cities may start getting food and ingredients from sustainable sources that don’t harm the forests.
It’s unclear if the report’s proposals are applicable to all kinds of cities with different background, climate, situation, and needs. However, city leaders could use them as an inspiration for their own efforts to conserve or restore forests and improve the life of their citizens by making nearby and faraway forests healthy again.
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