AMERICA’S CITIES ARE EXPERIENCING A PERIOD OF REMARKABLE and exhilarating renewal. City governments, community groups, nonprofits like American Forests, universities and many other institutions are all working to help shape vibrant, equitable cities for the future.
Technology can help ensure that urban forests are included as a central part of every city’s future plans and investments. Despite best efforts, too often organizations trying to lead urban forestry are disconnected from other urban leaders and lack the right tools and information to plan, fund and execute a vision for urban tree canopy.
The new Vibrant Cities Lab, created by American Forests in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) and numerous cohorts, uses computer technology to integrate and empower urban forest leaders. The Vibrant Cities Lab will for the first time ever provide a single online hub for all of the best tools and technical information for urban forests, including online computer mapping using tree canopy cover.
But first, a little background information about the seemingly oxymoronic field of urban forestry. (Forest + city is not intuitive for everyone!) Because trees weave throughout our cityscapes, urban forestry by definition connects such diverse fields as planning, landscape architecture, transportation, public works, public health, public safety and city management, touching each but without being embodied by any.
American Forests is demonstrating Vibrant Cities Lab’s impact on the ground in cities nationwide through our award-winning Community. Credit: American Forests.
What sets urban forestry apart from simple tree planting is that it addresses tree canopy in the built environment on a systemic level. Effective urban forestry must stretch across property lines and jurisdictional boundaries, addressing sometimes wildly divergent policies right across the street of one another. Yet at its best, we know from cutting-edge research that a healthy tree canopy has the potential to benefit nearly every aspect of daily life, from academic performance and crime rates to water quality and economic development.
This diverse, complicated community leading urban forestry is why we created the Vibrant Cities Lab as a single, unified online resource that delivers the research and best practices of urban forestry to the disciplines that impact tree canopy the most. Lauren Marshall, of the USFS’s Urban Technology and Science Delivery Team, sees this site as critical to fulfilling their mission.
“A key role for the U.S. Forest Service in urban and community forestry is providing communities of all sizes with the information and tools they need to sustain their forests and the benefits they provide,” says Marshall. “The Vibrant Cities Lab makes those resources easily accessible in a curated way.”
We paid particular attention to design and user experience — with a commitment to avoid creating another green forestry website. Vibrant Cities Lab is designed to stand out and to be welcoming to those who don’t see the world through the prism of trees, providing city managers, allied professions, researchers, students and advocates an easy-to-use curated source for everything they need to begin integrating urban forestry into their objectives.
Nationally, urban forests are estimated to contain about 3.8 billion trees. Credit: Chuck Fazio.