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The Best Urban Forests

February 5th, 2013|Tags: |

Top 10 graphic - 10 Best CitiesWe are excited today to announce the 10 best U.S. cities for urban forests. In alphabetical order, those cities are Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

American Forests took on this project to help people (and city leaders) better understand the critical value of urban forests in their cities — to their own lives, health, economies and well-being of their communities. And to, therefore, invest in their urban forests. We see proactive individuals as a key to maintaining urban forests. These people recognize that trees around them are not just pretty shade providers, but are essential elements of the natural fabric of the planet that we depend upon for survival.

The 10 best cities that we are recognizing today have made prolonged and profound investments in the health of their urban forest, and they’ve benefited from active nonprofit and community participation in improving and maintaining the city’s environmental resources. We extol these cities’ efforts and dedication to urban forests to elevate the quality of life for citizens and visitors alike and hope that other cities will be inspired by their success.

Minneapolis' urban forest

A view of central Minneapolis, one of American Forests 10 best cities for urban forests, from across the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. Credit: Ron Reiring

I’d like to thank our expert panel, which included technical advisors from the U.S. Forest Service, who devoted hours of time to look at independent data and American Forests’ survey responses from local urban forest professionals and community forestry nonprofits in order to help determine our 10 best cities. And, of course, the Forest Service itself, which provided grant funding to support this project.

What did we learn? We thought we knew a lot about what urban forests do for people. What we learned was how innovative people are in working for the forests in their cities. Each one with similar and different problems, similar and different solutions. We hope the shared takeaways will create a basis for better understanding as to how to address the new challenges we face each day as climate change alters the timing of seasons, the frequency and severity of storms and the threats of disease and insect infestations that were previously checked by colder winters.

Over the years, science has increasingly shown that urban forests are so much more than a beautification strategy. Yet, we sometimes forget that these environments that do so much for us — removing carbon dioxide, controlling stormwater and flooding and providing restful, stress-reducing oases in the middle of urban life — cannot exist without our help. With 80 percent of the U.S. population currently living in urban areas and the urban land area in the U.S. expected to more than double by 2050, now is the time to plan, plant and foster our urban forests. Trees don’t grow up overnight, but a healthy urban forests’ benefits can be enjoyed by generations.

February 5th, 2013|Tags: |5 Comments


  1. Leda February 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Melinda, for this list! I’m curious about whether you considered minimum soil volume for urban trees as a criteria for evaluating cities with the best urban forests. I am starting to see more and more cities put policies in place to guarantee that street trees are planted with enough soil; I think these will be critical to ensuring their long-term success. Any thoughts?

  2. Joe February 7, 2013 at 11:04 am - Reply


    So spot on…..Soil Volumes and Tree Space (larger openings) in the built environment is critical. Trees as amenities that need to be replaced regularly (7-10 years)like annual flowers do not provide the benefits that everyone extols.

  3. Max February 28, 2013 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Any data on which city has the most trees per capita?

  4. Carsten April 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I’m a bit confused by this report on top 10 cities for urban forests as it relates to NYC.

    In early 2012 USDA FS D Nowak and E. Greenfield reported that out of 20 US City of New York faired as the 6th worst city in terms of reduction / loss in irreplaceable tree canopy and an increase in impermeable surfaces by paving. Unimaginable. The 6th worst city by having lost 2,250 acres of urban forest canopy over the comparative 2005-2009 period of that study. And there is little indication across the urban landscape here in current years that sees infrastructure development, new building construction and friendly behavior towards existing trees has changed any. The abuse and needless removal of established large trees remains common place across both public and private development projects.

    Yet here in the 2013 AF report, you identify that NYC is in fact a very green and tree happy place. I wonder if you can clarify the disparity between the 2012 Nowak empirical findings on losses in canopy, with the findings of your report that report something entirely different.

  5. Melinda Housholder April 18, 2013 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the message. Yes, if you are just looking at canopy cover loss, you may see that NYC has not been faring very well, as indicated by the 2012 study. However, as you will see in the criteria (see below) that we used for our 10 Best Cities, we considered a variety of components within the city when choosing our list. Thus, while canopy cover may be declining, the city and local efforts in NYC are making huge strides to help prioritize the urban forest. For example, unlike many other cities, NYC has a variety of comprehensive greening plans and greening initiatives that include urban forests, extensive civic engagement for urban forests and both public and private tree ordinances. Great urban forests are about more than just canopy cover; great urban forests require a variety of management dedication, strategies and resources that help to address the needs and challenges of the urban forest.

    It is important to remember, though, that no one city has the perfect model for urban forests. Each city, even the ones on our list, still has its own challenges, such as those you mentioned above. But, NYC is moving in the right direction and is setting a strong example for others to follow in many ways.

    Click here to learn more about our criteria and methodology: http://www.americanforests.org/our-programs/urbanforests/10-best-cities-for-urban-forests/10-best-cities-for-urban-forests-project-methodology/

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