November 16, 2011

Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests Report Release

The Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests Report was officially released at the Partners in Community Forestry Conference yesterday in a joint breakout session with New York Restoration Project, the U.S. Forest Service, Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition and the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council.

The report is available online at http://issuu.com/vibrantcities/docs/vibrantcitiesreport

For a USB device or hard copy version of the report, please email your name, mailing address and affiliation to: VibrantCitiesUrbanForests@gmail.com

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November 11, 2011

A Glimpse into the Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests Report (to be released November 15th)

Over the course of the past year, the Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests Task Force has been collaborating with New York Restoration Project (NYRP) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to craft the Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests: A National Call to Action report, which will be released on Tuesday.

Bringing together the observations and recommendations of 25 experts across multiple disciplines, the Vibrant Cities Report presents a new framework for understanding the benefits of urban and community forestry.  The ideas contained in the Report will be familiar to urban forestry practitioners; the innovation is in the approach.  Convening a group of experts across multiple disciplines affected by the urban forest brings the message to a wider audience so that we are not once again preaching to the choir.  Offering a cohesive and cogent statement for what urban and community forestry means to our cities, the Report establishes a vision, highlights emerging trends, and culminates with a series of recommendations that can be applied to urban areas across the U.S.

The vision of the Report is to “explore the implications of integrated natural and built urban environments and their possibilities for the future.”  Put another way, the aim of the Vibrant Cities Report is to show how urban and community forestry can be used to solve problems that face our cities, particularly in areas that are not immediately obvious.  Most notably, the Report calls out how the urban forest, working as green infrastructure by complementing the built environment to address issues such as stormwater runoff, functions as part of a larger urban ecosystem.  Taking another example, the benefits of trees also extend to the realm of public health through their ability to mitigate air pollution and extreme heat in cities.

By framing urban forestry as a solution to not only the environmental, but also the social, economic and public health issues that face cities, the Report empowers decision makers to unlock the myriad benefits offered by trees and green infrastructure.

Building upon the vision, the Report continues with a rundown of several emerging trends, as well as how the potential benefits of the urban forest can offset the negative consequences of these trends.  The challenges identified in the Emerging Trends focus on environmental, economic and social themes.  The 12 Recommendations that follow are guided by the same underlying themes and represent the culmination of the Task Force’s expertise.  Distilled from over 100 initial proposals, the Recommendations cover Education and Public Awareness, Research and Evaluation, Public-Private Partnerships and other topics.  Each Recommendation challenges the reader to take action to improve our cities.

It is up to us to heed the call to action.

March 30, 2011

Vibrant Cities Expectations

The expectations are high for the Vibrant Cities Task Force – those leaders who will immerse themselves to help envision and frame the next chapter in more sustainable, greener (literally) and healthier communities.  I personally have a long wish-list of potential outcomes and measures of success for the Task Force.  (If you saw my list, you’d definitely double-up on your Wheaties breakfast on April 4-7).

But my point is not to appear to set the bar too high or create unrealistic expectations of the Task Force.  My real message is two-fold:

1.       We have ready-made audiences-

Even though there are only 25 Task Force members at the proverbial table in April, each of these Task Force members has the collective support, encouragement, and hope of thousands of engaged urban forestry advocates and stewards seated behind them.  These supporters range from municipal arborists to volunteer tree-planting coordinators to urban planners to researchers to green industry leaders to civil servants at all levels of federal, state and local governments.

The list of engaged and anticipatory audiences is vast and diverse.  The “buzz” about Vibrant Cities work and vision has permeated the urban forestry field and beyond.  There will be no need to cultivate an audience; they stand waiting.

2.       Carrying the message and creating vehicles to move it forward-

The Task Force recommendations will not fall into a void.  While the recommendations released may not emerge as a top CNN cover story, the information and messages will travel rapidly among the urban forestry community.  Already in place are the relationships and networks to extend the messages much further afield.  Many organizations, networks, and coalition will review and debate the recommendations intensely. As appropriate, this same network will be called upon to help move the recommendations from paper to reality.

For example, speaking on behalf of the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC, www.urbanforestcoalition.org), our members  eagerly anticipate the preliminary recommendations as they meet in Washington, DC, the week following the Task Force gathering (April 12-13).  The timing is ideal as the SUFC members will review the recommendations and vision to see how they could potentially influence and help shape the collective work of the SUFC.

Jennifer Hinrichs
Convener, Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition

March 28, 2011

America’s Great Outdoors at Our Doorstep

Last month’s release of the President’s Report on America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) is the culmination of a year-long process of town hall meetings that took place across the nation, which brought together more than 10,000 Americans in a dialogue to envision the future of U.S. conservation efforts.

A compelling takeaway from the report was the near universal recognition that nature is where you find it – and for most Americans, it is in their own backyards, schoolyards and community parks and gardens. The importance of urban parks, trees and green spaces came through loud and clear in the AGO Report, and the suggestions from participants were compelling and thoughtful.  Some of these observations included:

  • The opportunity for greater alignment, coordination, and integration of federal assistance for urban parks and green spaces. Participants cited the Sustainable Communities Partnership, Urban Waters Partnership, Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, and Urban and Community Forestry Program as examples.
  • The importance of technical assistance and seed money to help communities at the planning phase in securing and preserving parks and green assets.
  • The value of parks and greenways for redevelopment and economic revitalization in urban centers.
  • The opportunity to accelerate assistance for urban natural resources through existing programs, such as the U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, the U.S. Department of Transportation Safe Pathways to Schools Program, and the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
  • The opportunity for holistic planning that integrates transportation and greenways strategies.
  • The importance of fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund to enable support for urban parks.

As a participant at the White House’s kick-off conference last year, I found the President’s remarks inspiring and was especially encouraged to see the formation of our 21st century conservation agenda be the result of deep community engagement.

Now, we have a collective task ahead of us – to find where we fit in this picture.  The goals are too great to be limited to any one agency or sector.  It will truly be a collective effort to bring about the vision America’s Great Outdoors promises. I look forward to bringing these goals into my work and hope you will too.

Check out the America’s Great Outdoors website here, which includes the report as well as short fact sheets that can be used by local advocates to generate interest, support, and action in their urban forestry efforts.

Alice Ewen, National Program Manager, USDA-Forest Service Urban & Community Forestry Program

March 22, 2011

Growing Stronger Communities

For the nearly 200 local organizations nationwide that together constitute the Alliance for Community Trees (ACT), the ultimate benefit of trees is their remarkable capacity to improve a community. Planting new trees will beautify a neighborhood, boost property values, reduce energy bills, and provide many other economic and environmental benefits for the neighborhood and its residents.  But the tree planting itself has a dramatic social effect on the community, and local tree organizations are holding thousands of these planting events each year.

 

Let’s zoom in from a satellite overview of a city’s canopy cover and look at what happens on ground level at a neighborhood tree planting. Take a look at the young girl who has never planted anything before, has rarely considered the little green space around her housing complex, and now plants a tree in front of her family’s unit, outside her bedroom window, and gives it a name, and waters it, and watches it grow. Check out the boy scout who is earning his Eagle badge by helping to coordinate this event.  See the couple who met years ago while volunteering for this same organization, and now bring their young son to plant alongside them.  See the elderly resident who noticed the activity out the window and brings down a pitcher of lemonade for the sweaty volunteers.  Watch the first-time homeowner who just moved in, and note how she digs in with pride, thrilled about the leafy new addition to her new home, full of gratitude towards the friends and neighbors who are helping her plant her tree.

All of these are true scenes from plantings staged by community tree groups. These specific moments are from North Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, California, and Iowa, but the same scenes are taking place at plantings all around the country. They show us what urban forestry looks like at its best: when it is creating a deeply personal experience, weaving social connections across a neighborhood, inspiring a collective sense of accomplishment, and imparting undeniable aesthetic beauty and sustainability to the landscape. Strengthening and beautifying communities—physically and psychologically, as well as economically and environmentally—is the higher achievement of urban forestry groups around the country.

The Vibrant Cities and Urban Forests Task Force is composed of leaders from all sectors who understand first-hand the great potential of urban forestry for improving communities. They’ll use this experience to educate leaders in Washington and across our nation about the importance of tree planting and stewardship in our cities and the need for their support of the growth of urban forests. What’s an ideal outcome?

Share your thoughts with us, here.

Leland Milstein
Program Director, Alliance for Community Trees

March 18, 2011

All Successful Endeavors Begin With A Vision

Whether a work of art, the creation of a new business, or the development of a green city, all successful endeavors begin with a vision.  A clear vision of what one hopes to accomplish is paramount for success.

In the case of urban forestry, what do we want our cities to look like?  What do we want our urban canopy to accomplish in terms of human health and wellbeing, social justice, and ecosystem services such as storm water management, air quality, and biodiversity?  How should we manage and steward our investment in urban tree canopy for maximum benefit and increase public awareness of the urban forest?

Simply put, the principle reason that a vision of success – i.e., goals – is so important is that it enables us to communicate, discuss and negotiate ideas and qualities that are otherwise intangible.  Goals make it possible to plan focused and purposeful programs.  Goals give us the chance to evaluate various approaches, and offer a standard against which success and failure can be measured and demonstrated.  Such a match between goals and plans is the core idea behind the practice of adaptive management.

We need your voice.  The essential work of the VCUF Task Force is to identify 15-year goals for urban forestry and stewardship in the United States, and then produce recommendations for policies, programs and funding mechanisms that can achieve these goals.

Help us identify the best and most ambitious goals for advancing urban forestry and stewardship in our nation’s cities and urban centers.  Please click here and spend ten minutes to lend your insights, ideas and aspirations for urban forestry – both nationally and locally.

Your input is essential in shaping the future of our nation’s urban environments.  Let your voice be heard!

March 2, 2011

Welcome!

Urban Forestry Friends and Colleagues,

As the co-convener of the Vibrant Cities and Urban Forests: A National Call to Action initiative, New York Restoration Project (NYRP) is excited to be a part of this national conversation on urban forestry and natural resources stewardship. As cities across America continue to invest in growing their urban tree canopy and expanding open, green space, this is the moment for us to collectively shape a new future for urban forestry. As a result, we will experience the health, environmental, social and economic benefits trees bring to hundreds of millions of city dwellers.

Our 24-member task force – selected from more than 150 nominations – brings together municipal and state officials, national and local non-profit leaders, researchers, urban planners, and foundation and industry representatives to carve a new path in urban forestry and stewardship. Through the task force’s work in April and beyond, we will take a fresh and inventive look at the ever-changing issues affecting our cities’ forests and landscapes. Along with our partner, the U.S. Forest Service, it’s our sincere hope that this initiative will provide us an opportunity to enhance the future of urban forestry and natural resources stewardship through a bi-partisan, cross-disciplinary and collective effort.

We need your help in realizing this shared vision.

Please take 10 minutes to answer a few questions about your experiences in and hopes for urban forestry and natural resources stewardship. Your thoughts and ideas will help form the foundation for the task force’s work and deliberations. Click here to participate in our questionnaire. Let your voice be heard, and join our Vibrant Cities & Urban Forests movement.

Amy Freitag
Executive Director, New York Restoration Project