Planting trees is a longstanding traditional urban planning approach for improving liveability in cities. Dating back from the earliest urban societies such as the Roman Empire, urban planners have applied trees for bringing shade, mitigating temperature, rainfall and wind, and providing food and fodder for animals. Providing urban trees, parks and urban forests is probably one of the earliest applications of what is now termed “nature-based solutions”. Nature-based solutions are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”.
End of January, I (the urban forestry consultant at EFI’s Resilience Programme) was invited by the Beijing Forestry and Parks Department of International Cooperation for a study visit and a training on urban forestry. China is one of the leading countries when it comes to afforestation: in 2018 alone, about 6.6 million hectare new forests (or the size or Ireland) will be planted. The new forests are not only situated in the rural areas, but also in and near urban agglomerations. In the last Beijing province (area: 16.000 km², inhabitants: 22 million) for example, about 67.000 ha additional forest has been planted over five years, mainly for landscape and aesthetical reasons, but also for recreation purposes. In the next five years, they are aiming for an additional similar area.
The study tour started in one of the mayor urban redevelopment projects that Beijing has seen: the 2008 Olympic Quarter. The Olympic Park (680 ha) has been built on former built-up area and farmland, and is situated at the central North-South axis through Beijing which connects the Olympic Park with the central Tiananmen Square. The park includes an artificial lake where soil was reused for building an artificial hill. The composition of the park follows the traditional Chinese design of building with the back to the hills and the front to the water.