Creating Cities Where People and Forests Flourish Together

Jun 25, 2024

Urban forests play an important role for people and sustainable societies and are highlighted in several sessions at the IUFRO World Congress. Researchers Harini Nagendra, and Anna María Pálsdóttir share their perspectives on the important role of urban forests for people and sustainable societies.

Keynote speaker Harini Nagendra, Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability at the Azim Premji University in Bangalore, India shared her perspective on Thinking ecologically about cities in the Global South in the plenary session. She argues that we need to focus more on urban forests in a world with increasing urbanization, where people’s well-being depends on urban forests.

“There is almost no space for urban forests in the South, given the density of people. We need urban forests for mitigating heat stress, flood reduction or just for mental stress relief,” she says.

Of the top-cited academic publications on urban forests, only 1 percent comes from the Global South, she points out.

“Cities in the Global South are largely located in the tropics where heat is a big problem. We need trees for shade to reduce heat, but trees also increase humidity, which increases heat stress. There are a lot of unanswered data and complex issues that we do not understand.”

She highlights some urgent research-needs relating to urban forests in the Global South.

“The real challenge is for urban forests to provide multiple benefits, whether it is heat mitigation, recreation or spiritual and sacred services,” Harini Nagendra says.

Much research needs to go into what communities want, which is context-specific, but also what kinds of services they can fulfil, which is not context-specific.

“Balancing that sort of generalizable research with very context-specific research is the big challenge for urban forests.”

What are your hopes relating to developing urban forests and sustainable societies towards 2050?

“As we are seeing the twin challenges of urban climate change and urbanization and the many crises associated with that, we should look at these crises as an opportunity to signal to policy makers about the need of urban forestry development in the Global South. That’s my hope, that this can be a sign to come together and say this is something we must all collectively solve, for cities where people and forests can flourish together.” Harini Nagendra says.

Anna María Pálsdóttir, researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, explores urban forests from a health perspective. Her research topic is landscape architecture with a specialization in environmental psychology.

“We look at the interaction of people and the environment and how we can create supportive and health-promoting outdoor environments,” says Anna María Pálsdóttir.
“We must expand and include more forest environments for people’s health. It is really beneficial to create more sustainable and multi-sensory environments in cities, as compared to more manicured parks. We need to go forward to a more natural ecosystem approach in cities, which forests can provide.”

What are your hopes for urban forests for development of sustainable societies towards 2050?

“I have great expectations on urban forests to provide healthy, sustainable and health-promoting outdoor-environments and landscapes, but we need co-creation and a collaboration across different disciplines working with forestry. We have great opportunities with all the expertise and knowledge that are found worldwide and we just need to put it to use,” says Anna María Pálsdóttir.

Upcoming sessions on this topic

T4.15 Healing Power of Nature: Forest Therapy in Action, Tuesday 08:30-10:30.

Poster sessions:
T4.15 Evaluation of the restorative potential of urban forest through a forest therapy program, Thursday 13:50-13:55, Poster stand 13

T4.15 Exploring the potential of a guided forest bathing programme as a nature-based intervention for well-being, restoration, and nature connection, Thursday 13:55-14:00

More on this topic

The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) coordinates several initiatives related to Urban Forests:
Urban Futures webinar series by SLU Urban Futures
Urban Forestscapes and Urban Healtscapes themes to highlight and support innovative and compound modes of knowledge production as well as inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration.