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Category: Urban Forestry

Greening tomorrow’s cities today

Uforest, a Knowledge Alliance project co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission, aims to contribute to the development of entrepreneurial and innovation approaches within the sphere of urban forestry through developing diverse partnerships with universities, cities, businesses, public administrations, NGOs and local citizens. In so doing, the Project seeks to redefine the Urban Forestry sector through nurturing a culture of collaboration and cross-sector working to develop an Alliance of urban forestry stakeholders across Europe. Even though the project is coming to an end in December 2023, U-forest took very practical steps to promote green spaces in cities.

Uforest’s from knowledge to action approach

Part of the project were several educational activities, the preparation of technical guidance and diverse events programmes. Significantly though, Uforest transcends the theory, as clearly highlighted through the inauguration of its annual “European Urban Forest Week” which was held during the first week of December 2023; what better present could Santa and his elves bring than newly planted forests, in once sterile ground! 

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25 years of EFUF – becoming part of the European urban forestry community

Have you ever asked a friend or relative what they particularly value about their hometown or a city that they have recently visited? Do you remember the answer? More often than not, people will quickly think about the local landscapes and greenspaces. Such memorable places include public parks, urban forests, waterfront walkways or just everyday streets with distinctive or historic trees… like the cherry blossom in Bonn, the city where I live right now. 

Indeed, urban greenspaces help to transform our cities into more welcoming, healthier, and more resilient places to live. People simply appreciate the natural areas around them in, sometimes hostile, urban environments. We can immediately recognise the popularity of such spaces through the images shared on social media.

This year, I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of the Urban Forestry team of the European Forest Institute. In the beginning, the concept of “urban” was quite a challenge for me, having been more familiarity with the “wilder” and larger forests of the Dolomites – pretty much the opposite of urban… however this urban forestry journey has brought a plethora of new experiences, ideas and food for thought.

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Unlocking the potential of urban forests

Developing a Local Urban Forestry Action Plan

Are you interested in gaining a quick overview of the huge potential that urban forestry offers to solve environmental, social, and economic challenges in cities? Do you want to learn how increasing the presence of trees and other vegetation in cities can contribute to urban resilience? EFI’s Urban Forestry Team members from the Resilience Programme in Bonn (Juliet Achieng Owuor, Ian Whitehead and Rik De Vreese) have recently been involved in editing and co-authoring a new publication, entitled “Unlocking the Potential of Urban Forests”, which has been the result of a huge effort of some of the world’s leading professionals and researchers in urban forestry.

The publication proposes an integrated vision for urban forestry which delivers multifunctional objectives through the involvement of diverse local stakeholders, whilst effectively responding to wide-ranging sustainability challenges and societal demands. These include the need to fight climate change, to retain biodiversity and to improve overall health and wellbeing of urban citizens through providing everyday opportunities for contact with nature. It proposes practical steps to achieve this vision, whilst considering the bigger picture of how urban forestry can be an effective tool to deliver key aspects of EU policy.

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Taking Green Care to the next level

From social farming to impacts of disconnection from nature on psychological and community resilience to finding science-based strategies to innovate and promote nature-based health and social care: on 7 December around 100 participants from 24 countries across 4 continents joined the final  online event of the Green4C (GreenForCare) project. A mentimeter showed that people came from varying working backgrounds: education, research, Green Care practice, Health care, politics, and more. 

The event was opened with an exciting presentation by Matilda van den Bosch (IS Global) discussing the state of science in Green Care. Green Care stands for a “range of activities that promote physical and mental health and well-being through contact with nature” (1). Her presentation set the scene for the meeting showing how crucial nature is for our physical and psychological health. Next, Deirdre O’Connor (University College Dublin) and Marjolein Elings (Wageningen University & Research) introduced Social Agriculture, one of thematic sectors of Green Care. Especially the video from social farms and gardens brought across the feeling of how much social agriculture can do for physical and mental well-being as well as to strengthen social inclusion. As Jim Hidderley put it in the video “Humanity is not designed to life in a box! Green spaces, fresh air, animals and contact with other people that is, that is the key to life”.

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What are the main challenges faced by the urban forestry sector in Europe? 

According to the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs, by 2050 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. This rapid urbanisation brings us many challenges, both for humans and the environment, requiring the adoption of innovative solutions. Today, more and more experts are pointing to a simple yet extremely effective answer: nature. 

Urban forests and natural areas provide many benefits. They are key allies in the fight against climate change, providing clean air, mitigating the urban heat island effect, managing stormwater, and much more. They are also important for urban dwellers’ health: today, a growing body of both scientific and other literature is highlighting the positive impacts of nature on health and wellbeing. For example, nature provides a space for physical activity and social interaction. In this sense, besides improving the quality of life in cities, nature can also reduce infrastructure and healthcare costs.

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Health in the city – How can we all get more Green Care?

Mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression are especially since the pandemic on a massive rise around the globe (1) and scientific studies have shown that we spend around 90% of our time indoors (2). At the same time the research is becoming more and more clear: nature does not only help to improve our physical but also psychological wellbeing, summarized under the term “Green Care”, standing for a “range of activities that promote physical and mental health and well-being through contact with nature” (3). Several studies have shown that when we spend time in nature our stress levels are lowered (4), our anxiety level decreases (5) and the time spent in forests can even help in preventing or curing burn-out and depression (6). We can reconnect to our emotions which facilitates personal insights and leaves us feeling more connected to ourselves (7) and cope better with stress, which makes us more resilient and positively affects our mood states (8). Furthermore, our social connection can be facilitated when we deeply experience forests together (7). But it is not only humans who benefit from spending time in nature:  There might also be a positive outcome for nature, because research shows that if we feel connected we are more motivated to behave environmentally responsible (9) and support pro-environmental outcomes (10).
But even though research results are so promising, Green Care initiatives often face difficulties due to uncertainties in financing, low public awareness, recognition of the role of such initiatives and there has hardly been any integration into health policy to date. The Green4C project, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, has been working the last three years towards the innovation and promotion of Green Care. In order to find innovative solutions to mainstream Green Care, six hackathons in six countries were organized, one of which was the Green Care Hackathon on the 23rd of November at the EFI office in Bonn.

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Green Care Hackathon 23.11 in Bonn

Waren Sie in diesem heißen Sommer auch so glücklich, im Stadtpark unter Bäumen auszuruhen? Haben Sie auch gemerkt, wie ruhig und zufrieden uns städtische Grünflächen und -Wälder machen kann – egal, ob wir dort Chillen, Joggen, oder mit Expert*innen etwas über die Wunder unserer Natur lernen?

Wir haben uns gefragt: Wie können wir noch mehr von den positiven Auswirkungen von Natur- und Umweltpädagogik, oder auch von Waldtherapie profitieren? Wie könnte dieses “Green Care” als Präventivleistung von Krankenkassen angeboten werden, und welche innovativen und tragfähige privatwirtschaftliche Initiativen gibt es? Um mit Ihnen gemeinsam Antworten zu diesen Fragen zu finden, veranstaltet das European Forest Institute in Bonn am 23. November 2022 im Rahmen des „Green4C“-Projektes einen “Hackathon”.

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Sustaining cities, naturally – across 3 continents

The role of cities in the light of the health of people and the planet alike, is undeniably crucial. While cities only make up about 2% of terrestrial areas, more than 50% of the World’s population is already living in cities (Pincetl, 2017). This trend of urbanization is expected to continue to grow into a staggering 65% of the world population living in cities by 2040 (weforum, 2019).  

While poorly planned urbanization can lead to societal challenges such as social deprivation, climate change, deteriorating health and increasing pressure on urban nature, urban ecosystem restoration can contribute to lessen these challenges, through for example implementing nature-based solutions (NBS). Research by the ISGlobal drastically illustrated this: An increase in overall greenness in cities could prevent up to almost 43.000 deaths in European cities every year (ISGlobal, 2021).
On Thursday and Friday, the 13th and 14th of October the webinar “Sustaining Cities, Naturally” focused precisely on these topics: NBS and urban ecosystem restoration. The webinar was jointly organized by four Horizon 2020 projects: INTERLACECONEXUSREGREEN and CLEARING HOUSE as an official side-event of the The European Week of Regions and Cities 2022. By bringing together cities, regions and local authorities, city network representatives, policy makers, researchers, civil society and experts on NBS and urban ecosystem restoration, the webinar was a showcase example of international cooperation in knowledge creation and exchange. With a total of 333 participants on Thursday and 571 on Friday as well as 29 speakers, NBS and urban ecosystems restoration in Europe, China and Latin America were discussed in depth and from various perspectives.  

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