Cleaner, fresher and more beautiful cities thanks to trees

Trees and forests are our allies inside cities too. They reduce average temperatures, shelter us from storms and clean the air we breathe.

Urban forests, in combination with sustainable mobility measures that include increasing hybrid cars, public transport and bicycles, are able to make cities safer, help mitigate climate change and improve citizens’ health. This has been confirmed in a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

trees in cities urban forests
Trees and urban forests make us happier and healthier © Aleksejs Bergmanis/Pexels

The document entitled Guidelines on Urban and Peri-urban Forestry was presented on the 16th of October in Quito, Ecuador, during the Habitat III conference: a global summit that takes place every twenty years to assess the progress of sustainable development in cities. “Urbanists and other decision-makers are often unaware of the crucial economic, social and environmental benefits provided by urban forestry, which means they’re investing funds on other things,” Simone Borelli, one of the book’s authors, points out. “This publication shows that shifting from ‘grey to green’ represents a wise investment that can improve many aspects of citizens’ lives”.

More trees and forests equal more well-being

Though the positive effects of trees on our health and well-being seem obvious, often the management of public green spaces isn’t at the top of local authorities’ priorities. Nevertheless, the FAO’s guidelines confirm that 70 per cent of the world population will live in cities by 2050 and in the context of growing urbanisation, forests and green spaces will be invaluable allies in efforts to achieve sustainable development.

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A flower bed beneath a tree in Paris © Bsip/Ig/Getty Images

They can in fact protect us from extreme meteorological events, as well as improve the quality of air and water, reduce energy use and lower temperatures. The report confirms that forests are able to improve well-being: green spaces in cities encourage healthier and more active lifestyles, and reduce atmospheric and acoustic pollution. “A 10 per cent increase in green areas can delay the insurgence of health problems up to five years,” according to the FAO.

Read more: As seas rise, nature can protect our cities

Improving biodiversity

Urban forests can also become cradles of biodiversity. It is estimated that 20 per cent of all bird species and 5 per cent of vascular plants live in cities. Amsterdam alone is home to 200,000 trees, which give shelter to 140 different species of birds, 34 mammals, 60 fish and six between frogs and salamanders (according to UNE and ICLEI data from 2008).

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The British city of Bath is surrounded by trees. Urban forests are useful for the local environment, in addition to mitigating climate change, improving health, well-being and sustainable development © Matt Cardy/Getty Images

“These guidelines can contribute to boosting communities’ awareness of how trees and forests can improve quality of life,” Borelli says. “As well as their vital role in encouraging global sustainability“.

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