One year ago, in November 2018 the largest global gathering of urban forestry expertise descended on the medieval town of Mantova in northern Italy for the first World Forum on Urban Forestry (WFUF) The Forum was a place for sharing at the policy and practice level and also a platform to launch actions on ‘How Trees will save Cities’. With the momentum generated a WFUF permanent committee was established spearheaded by FAO, SISEF and the Politecnio di Milano. One year later, and in partnership with Triennale Milano and the Comune di Milano two days of ideas and actions for new cities and countries around the world was held at the Triennale Milano in the beautiful wooded parkland of Parco Sempione. Milano Calling 2019 was more than a follow up event but also the opportunity to identify the next steps in various initiatives including the ‘Great Green Wall of Cities’ an initiative which traverses the drylands of China, the Middle East and large parts of Africa.
EFI were represented by Clive Davies, Senior Researcher, Advisor and Facilitator (IHC) on Urban Forestry at the Governance and Resilience Programme, European Forest Institute (EFI Bonn). Of particular significance was to tie in the Europe – China, CLEARING HOUSE Research and Innovation Action (RIA) which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 847441 which EFI coordinates with the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF) in Beijing.
Milano calling followed two parallel work streams, one, in English, looking at global actions of which the ‘Great Green Wall of Cities’ provided a focus and the other in Italian looking at a new initiative called ‘Parco Italia’ a proposed network of forests and green infrastructure between and inside Italian cities and ‘FORESTAMI’ a three million tree campaign for Milano. The event was addressed by a number of dignitaries including Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, who planted a celebratory tree outside the Triennale.
Working sessions included a SWOT (Identification of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of urban forestry initiatives which resulted in a number of outputs useful for the proposed CLEARING HOUSE project guidelines. These included the vital nature of the policy level dialogue between central government and city government which based on the evidence submitted can range from strong, through fragile to the totally dysfunctional. A further important theme was the need to transcend urban boundaries and consider the footprint of the city in urban forestry nature-based systems. Some argued that this is global since cities drive the global bioeconomy especially in respect of food and fibre. Other voices spoke of the need to be spatially realistic and that ‘watersheds’ were a common unifying theme for most cities even in drylands. There was a general concern expressed about the weakness of regulatory systems which can be non-existent in some situations and open to abuse in others.
A wide range of possible ideas emerged the relevance of which would depend on local circumstances;
- Stressing the role of Urban Forest Nature Based Solutions in job creation and the “Green New Deal’.
- Change is inevitable so adaptive management of the urban forest is a central concept.
- Localism has little to say when central government is very strong, this can lead to results, but the social price might be unacceptable in the long term.
- Water basin authorities are critical actors in urban forest management at the city-region scale.
- The city region is the ‘foodshed’ for the city and often its ‘woodshed’ too, hence attempts to separate urban agriculture from urban forestry is flawed and a conjoined approach is beneficial.
- A role for public authorities is to motivate community action and one idea explored is to train civic leaders and motivated citizens as Urban Forest advocates and place them back into the community as enablers and facilitators.
- Recognise that there are knowledge gaps in all societies, mapping and understanding these is necessary part of the successful implementation of urban forestry programmes.
- The declaration of the ‘climate emergency’ is a windfall (pun not intended) as global leaders are looking for practical solutions and ‘trees’ are an easy sell and genuinely an optimal nature-based solution.
- Community engagement is vital if trees are to be successful and respected; citizens have the power to resist inappropriate developments.
- The final measure of success may not be ecological but anthropocentric – ‘good health, wellbeing and happiness’
The work of WFUF continues but in the meantime there are other gatherings of importance, not least the European Forum on Urban Forestry 2020 in Manchester (UK) between the 19th and 22nd May which has its theme ‘Resilience and the Urban Forest’. EFI is a strategic partner for this event. Put it in your diaries!