10 Best Cities for Urban Forests: Project Methodology


Credit: Christopher John SSF

American Forests worked with a judging panel of urban forest experts from a broad range of scientific and social disciplines to identify the best cities for urban forests from the 50 most populous U.S. cities. The panel looked at American Forests-gathered survey responses from local urban forest professionals and community forestry nonprofits and independent data acquired from reputable sources to select the 10 best cities for urban forests.

Before conducting our survey, with the help of our judging panel, we determined key characteristics and criteria for exemplary urban forests. We then reached out to key professionals from both the city and local nonprofit groups in each of the 50 most populous cities across the country to learn about what the city is doing and what is happening in their urban forests. We also used existing, relevant data about the cities and their urban spaces when available from national organizations including The Trust for Public Land and the Arbor Day Foundation. Based on this external data, the self-reported survey responses that we received and the expert opinions of our judging panel, 10 cities across the nation stood out as exemplary examples of urban forests considering the six following criteria:

  • Knowing your urban forest is key to having a successful, sustainable urban forest.

We looked at several components as part of this criteria, including whether or not the city knew their potential canopy cover and whether there has been a canopy increase or decrease over the past several years. We also inquired about the types of trees that make up each urban forest and how that information is managed, asking about each city’s tree inventory, whether they keep track of tree-species diversity and if they know the age class dispersal.

  • A city’s urban forest management activities reflect the commitment it has to its urban forest.

We looked to see if the city has urban forest management plans, how often plans are updated and if they include both public and private land. We also looked into whether cities have a tree canopy goal and ordinances supported or mandated by the city. Additionally, we also took into consideration whether a city had been awarded the Arbor Day Tree City USA Award.

  • Strong civic engagement is paramount for sustainable urban forests.

Civic engagement indicates how a city, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community groups and individuals work together to promote and maintain the health of their urban forest. We looked at each city’s level of involvement with public education, outreach and social marketing efforts regarding urban forests and trees. We also looked at how NGOs collaborate with each other, with the community and with city foresters to organize stewardship efforts.

  • Policies to improve city greening often promote and reinforce a city’s commitment to its urban forest.

Policies for city greening include urban forest management plans, green infrastructure plans, green jobs training and natural resources restoration. We asked each city about their existing plans and greening initiatives. Furthermore, we asked if tree planting or urban forestry was included as part of the overall strategy to address issues such as energy conservation, stormwater and recreation. We also looked at whether the city has signed onto the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a commitment from mayors to strive towards Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities.

  • Access to greenspace and parks are an important part of a community’s connection with its urban forest.

To determine the accessibility of urban forests and greenspaces, we looked at the 2011 City Park Facts report from The Trust for Public Land. We used acres of greenspace per person, the percentage of the city that is parkland and tree cover per capita to get a better picture of how accessible public parks and greenspaces are within each city.

  • The physical condition of the urban forest is important to consider when looking at a city’s urban forest.

We collected self-reported data about the physical condition and percent canopy coverage to better understand the health of the city’s urban forest. We asked both urban foresters and NGOs to rate the condition of trees in their urban forests compared to the rest of their region, indicating just a snapshot in time rather than a comparison over time.

 Click here to see who was on our judging panel

Click here to see the 10 Best Cities for Urban Forests



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