What we learned from the World Forum on Urban Forests 2018 in Mantova

The World Forum on Urban Forests took place from the 28th of November to the first of December. More than 400 experts from 50 countries conversed with politicians, journalists and citizens to design the green cities of the future.

Entering Mantova kissed by a warm winter sun that sits low on the horizon but creates a dim and warm light is always touching. This is how one of the most beautiful cities in Lombardy welcomed more than 400 experts from 50 countries around the world who took part in the World Forum on Urban Forests (WFUF 2018) to discuss the importance of urban forests, trees and green areas in cities, for the very first time. New happy islands, the future “oases” that will welcome an important part of the human race in a climate that is increasingly threatened by desertification and other extreme weather events, avoidable consequences of climate change. Similar to what the people behind Openfabric tried to recreate through green art installations around the city.

Watch all the interviews from WFUF 2018:

Mantova skyline

Designing the forests of the future

Or at least this is what will happen if we’re able to properly design the forests of the future, deciding what we want from them and what they should give us. Human beings should start imagining a different relationship with the land, “one based on prevention, born out of adequate planning, that is able to make us coexist more harmoniously with nature,” to use the words of Giorgio Vacchiano, researcher in forestry management and planning at the University of Milan, who also took part in one of the meetings open to the public organised in collaboration with Festivaletteratura, one of Mantova’s most important annual events, dedicated to the world of culture and literature. After all, planning the presence of trees in cities can only bring free benefits: they reduce CO2 emissions, remove particulate matter caused by traffic and heating, and mitigate ever more frequent heat waves. An urban forest can lower temperatures by 5-6 degrees Celsius, avoiding great discomfort for people and the environment. Achieving this without trees would be much more expensive for local administrations. If only we were more aware of what trees do for us, we would realise just how much we need them, in every corner of our cities.


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A Mediterranean Forest. One of the installation designed by @openfabric for the Forum. #urbanforests #wfuf2018 #wfuf

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“If forests and trees are properly managed within and around urban areas they can provide habitats, food and protection for numerous animal and plant species – according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) –. Which also contributes to protecting and increasing biodiversity”. This is the main reason that pushed the FAO to create this event in collaboration with the municipality of Mantova led by mayor Mattia Palazzi, the Polytechnic University of Milan and SISEF (Italian Society of Silviculture and Forest Ecology).  “The forestry department works with world forests: we’re tackling deforestation, we’re working to preserve forests and the most important thing is how we secure the lives of people who very much rely on forests – Hiroto Mitsugi, who heads the FAO department dedicated to forest planning and management –. For those who are in rural areas, everybody relies on forests and at the same time, dwellers in urban cities also very much rely on forests. In other words, ecosystem services like water, good air and a good environment come from the forests”.

mantova, wfuf
Mantova during the 2018 World Forum on Urban Forests

A conversation between experts, the media and institutions

Architect and urbanist Stefano Boeri and Cecil Konijnendijk, professor at the University of British Columbia, chaired the scientific committee. “Where we’re not so good yet is how to take the next step implementing it, taking action – the latter told us –. We need to have cities on board, politicians on board, we also need to have the general public on board helping us promote the importance of trees and also pushing their politicians to do better for trees”.

Boeri, on his part, took part in an intense moment with pianist Ludovico Einaudi at the Bibiena Theatre, where they shared words and notes on stage. “Cities are the main cause of climate change, but they’re also the victims. Now cities can become the protagonists of a great movement for change,” Boeri stated. Einaudi – who had already taken part in a Greenpeace initiative for the protection of the Arctic and against climate change by playing Elegy for the Arctic atop a platform floating in the freezing Norwegian waters – then played an unforgettable set for the people of Mantova, taking the concept as an inspiration to create something new.

The forum lived up to expectations. “It has really achieved our ambitions in terms of bringing people together in the same room, in the same city, across disciplines. We have people from architecture, landscape architecture, forestry, social sciences, engineering as well as from different parts of the world sharing experiences, this has been as we’d hoped it would be,” professor Konijendijk concluded.

The Mantova Challenge

The Mantova Challenge was launched at the forum’s close, challenging cities around the world to put data, suggestions and techniques presented by the researchers into practice. A push to adopt concrete solutions aimed at encouraging a correct management of green areas and urban forests. In order to construct greener, healthier and therefore happier cities. An inescapable challenge that will have to take one simple and clear statistic into account: in 2050, nearly 70 per cent of the world population will live in cities and the success of our fight against global warming will depend on them.

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