Better Forests, Better Cities

Chapter 6

Recommendations for Policy and Action

Around the world, cities are responding to the evidence presented in this report by increasingly using forests to address their challenges and meet the aspirations of residents. Taking inspiration from leading cities and innovative projects, this chapter describes the immediate actions that cities can take to incorporate forests into their plans, policies and investments to ensure the long-term provision of benefits they provide.



Decades of research and on-the-ground outcomes show the untapped potential of forests to meet city needs and aspirations.

As cities face the dual challenges of growing populations and accelerating climate change, they need scalable solutions that can be implemented at relatively low cost. This report shows that forests at all three levels—inner, nearby, and faraway—can provide essential services to city residents, including improved human health, increased water security, improved microclimate regulation, climate protection, and biodiversity conservation. Forests often provide these services at lower cost than traditional infrastructure alone and can be integrated into cost-saving hybrid systems (Browder et al. 2019). Cities can use their plans, policies, and actions to harness the power of forests to build thriving, resilient communities, creating a mutually beneficial relationship between cities and forests.

What can cities do to realize the myriad benefits that trees and forests can provide them?

Our analysis has identified actions cities can take, and our synthesis of the literature and interviews categorized these under five thematic categories:

  1. Measurement and monitoring
  2. Planning
  3. Partnerships
  4. Finance
  5. Markets

Under each of these categories are “no regrets” measures that allow a city to take immediate action to leverage the power of inner, nearby, or faraway forests to help meet their goals and serve their residents. Although these recommendations are not exhaustive, they provide direction for cities to take tangible action. Underpinning these measures are a set of guiding principles (Box 8)—determined by the authors based on the latest primary literature—that apply to all recommendations. These actions are intended to help deliver the benefits described in this report and raise awareness of how critical forests are to thriving, resilient cities (Box 9). The recommendations and categories of action are summarized in Figure 23.

Figure 23 | Forest-Positive Actions across Five City Action Categories and Three Forest Levels


Inner Forests

Nearby Forests

Faraway Forests

1. Measurement


1. Map, inventory, and monitor your city’s urban forest

2. Quantify the benefits of urban trees

3. Align forest monitoring metrics with city goals

4. Articulate clear forest-related goals

1. Map peri-urban and watershed forests and identify where forests are being lost

2. Quantify the benefits of trees in areas around the city

1. Conduct an analysis of city-wide consumption linked to tropical deforestation

2. Identify and track local attitudes and initiatives towards promoting deforestation-free commodities

3. Articulate clear goals to guide action

2. Planning


5. Develop an urban forest management plan

6. Designate land specifically for natural areas

7. Create connectivity

3. Support the development of “nearby forest” management plans

4. Articulate clear forest-related goals

4. Calculate and develop an action plan to reduce the consumption of forest-risk commodities and city-driven carbon dioxide emissions associated with deforestation

3. Partnerships


8. Seek out organizations conducting innovative work on inner forests

9. Cultivate interagency and cross-jurisdictional collaboration

5. Articulate and amplify shared goals

5. Establish a “partner forest”

6. Establish relationships with organizations involved in forest conservation, restoration, and sustainable management to help implement faraway forest programs

7. Call on subnational and national governments as well as businesses and financiers to conserve, restore, and better manage tropical forests

8. Incentivize the use of responsibly sourced forest-risk products

4. Finance


10. Explore diverse, long-term financing mechanisms

6. Clarify that forest protection and management are eligible infrastructure expenses

7. Make the economic and business case for action on forests

8. Establish upstream-downstream partnerships to finance watershed management

9. Compensate for urban emissions by funding tropical forest conservation

10. Match conservation and restoration efforts in the city with conservation in faraway forests

5. Markets


11. Develop wood waste reuse programs

9. Implement a robust procurement policy for local, sustainably sourced wood

10. Explore the role of carbon markets to finance forest conservation or restoration

11. Establish ecotourism ventures to conserve and sustainably manage forests threatened by competing land-use pressures

12. Initiate tropical forest-positive procurement policies and campaigns

Source: Authors.

Box 8 | Better Forests Guidance

These guiding principles apply to action at all three forest levels and will help cities realize the best outcomes from investing in forests.

  • Conserve first, restore second. Conserving native—and especially intact—forests (through conservation or sustainable management) is a more effective and cost-effective way of sequestering carbon, conserving biodiversity, and maintaining water security than planting new forests. Conserving older and intact forests patches in and around cities gives forest interventions a “head start.” Avoiding tropical deforestation is also about seven to nine times more cost-effective than restoration or reforestation in many contexts.a
  • Protect old and large trees. Inside and outside of cities, large and old trees support biodiversity and provide benefits that cannot be replaced by planting new trees.
  • Define forests as essential infrastructure. Forests are often seen as a luxury or amenity. But given the benefits they provide, they should be viewed in policy and practice as essential infrastructure for cities alongside traditional built infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
  • Create a clear vision for the role of forests. Because forests and trees can serve so many objectives and can also imply trade-offs with others, it is important to have clarity on the ultimate purpose(s) of a program—developed in collaboration with the community—and the role that forests can play in reaching success.
  • Give voice to communities. Engage with and empower community members and stakeholders who have a role to play in the protection, restoration, and management of forests. Including a diversity of voices and using participatory methods helps to ensure that the benefits of forests are equitably distributed and suit residents’ needs. Forests that do not accommodate local needs or preferences are less likely to produce benefits that endure over time, but engaging local people can create support and even establish community stewards and advocates to champion projects and promote success over the long term.b
  • Emphasize equity. In many cities, ecosystem services are distributed unevenly, further marginalizing the poorest and most vulnerable. Yet for disadvantaged populations, these services may hold disproportionate value. Conduct spatial analyses to identify under-served areas and work with local communities to plant trees, restore woodlands, and ensure that the benefits of urban greening reach the neighborhood level.
  • Collaborate across jurisdictions and city agencies. Synergize data, resources, expertise, and policy actions on forests to help leverage the multiple benefits they can provide. Collaboration across agencies, sectors, and jurisdictions (including both other municipalities and regional and national governments) is key to increasing positive impacts on forests outside their boundaries as well as envisioning and planning for collective goals.
  • Use forests to complement measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Forests are threatened by climate change. Taking other action on climate change helps to prevent further forest degradation and other climate-induced changes, which allows them to maintain their role as carbon sinks. In this way, forests can be used to both mitigate and boost city resilience to climate change—a double win.
  • Prioritize biodiverse, native forests. Biodiverse, native forests are more resilient to stress and provide more reliable supplies of services. Within cities, even small patches of diverse, native forest that connect fragmented landscapes provide habitat for animals, birds, and pollinators and offer access to nature for local residents. Outside of cities, native forests and areas planted with a variety of native species often produce more and more reliable forest benefits.
  • Use the “right tree, right place” approach. When using trees and forests to achieve specific goals or benefits, cities must go beyond just increasing canopy cover. The species and placement of forest planting and regrowth should be aligned with specific goals and adapted to local conditions and a changing climate. Goals should also be aligned with appropriate metrics to monitor progress and measure success.

Sources: a. Busch et al. 2019; b. Higgs 2003; Wilson et al. 2019.


Box 9 | Cities4Forests: A Vision for the Future

Current City Challenges/Status Quo


Future Directions

City planners may see urban trees and forests as luxuries, “nice to have,” or sometimes liabilities


Urban nature seen as essential infrastructure, integral to human well-being and resilient, equitable, and habitable cities and appropriately supported by urban policy, finances, and culture

Research on urban forest expansion only uses “canopy cover” for planning and assessment


Urban forest expansion uses diverse metrics for high-quality natural forests and trees to deliver most-needed services in targeted areas, with community input

Urban forest management is siloed among city agencies; little communication across different departments


Increased coordination, cooperation, and partnership between city agencies, city residents, and private industry to support forests

City governments see nearby and watershed forests as outside the city’s purview, jurisdiction, and/or concern


Nearby and watershed forests seen as vital to cities, supported by city regulations and incentives in collaboration with rural and municipal stakeholders outside urban limits

Consumers see forests as resources to be managed primarily for wood and paper products

Forests are living ecosystems managed for multiple benefits simultaneously: nontimber forest products, carbon sequestration, other climate and hydrological services, human heath, cultural services, and native biodiversity

City governments and residents see forest conservation as an impediment to growth


Forest conservation, restoration, and sustainable management can lead to new jobs, resilient cities, forests and landscapes, and many other benefits to the city

City governments and residents do not understand the linkage between “faraway” tropical forests and urban well-being


Protection and restoration of tropical forests seen as essential by city governments to efforts to maintain a livable Earth and preserve biodiversity for future generations

City governments perceive that tropical and intact forests are outside the scope of city action


City governments and residents empowered to take an active role in tropical forest conservation and restoration via procurement, climate action, and other direct support

Source: Authors.

Actions for City Practice and Policy

Suggested policy actions are divided by level—inner, nearby, and faraway forests—and the thematic category that each action addresses.

Inner forests: Urban trees, parks, green infrastructure, and natural areas

With planning and long-term investment, inner forests can provide multiple social, health, environmental, and economic benefits to cities and their residents. Most of the recommendations at the inner forest level can be implemented through existing city agencies, departments, and their close implementing partners directly. Making training and education available to staff of multiple city agencies will empower them to do so. In particular, having staff trained in arboculture is essential: trees are community assets that require specific skills and expertise to help them thrive in urban environments. Interagency collaboration and partnership with urban residents and stakeholder groups is also important for achieving outcomes.

Measurement and monitoring: Inner forests

  • Map, inventory, and monitor your city’s urban forest. Develop an urban tree cover baseline and land cover map as a first step towards planning and monitoring urban forests. Evaluate key urban environmental challenges—such as heat islands, urban flooding, and lack of green space (WRI Mexico 2016; Singapore-ETH Centre n.d.)—that could be improved through better forest management, and use available socioeconomic information to ensure equitable distribution of the benefits of trees to all city residents. For example, North Macedonia’s Skopje Green Cadaster36 involves a comprehensive mapping, recording, and cataloging of all public green zones in the city, including every bush and tree. Identifying areas where trees and forests are not present is also important to identify needs and opportunities (UNDP North Macedonia n.d.).
  • Quantify the benefits of urban trees, especially iconic and mature ones. A range of tools can be used to quantify the benefits of existing trees, including large and mature ones that often have disproportionate cultural or ecological value (Pool et al. 2022; Box 10). This analysis can be used to garner political and resident support as well as guide investments in (for example, by justifying local budget decisions) and management of urban forests. For example, i-Tree Eco37—an online tool developed by the U.S. Forest Service to quantify and value ecosystem services provided by trees—was recently adapted, translated, and launched for Mexican cities, allowing cities across Mexico to quantify the extent and composition of urban forests and calculate their ecosystem services and monetary value. Findings from the Chapultepec Forest, a vast urban forest in Mexico City, are available via an interactive map for resident education and engagement, influencing public awareness and building the case for preserving urban forests (SEDEMA n.d.).38

Box 10 | The Value of Old, Large Trees in Cities

In cities, older and large trees can serve as important habitat and as beloved spiritual, cultural, or neighborhood landmarks. In terrestrial ecosystems, large trees are considered “keystone structures” because they occupy a small fraction of many ecosystems but have a disproportionately large impact.a They provide habitat for an array of animal species, from bats to insects to arboreal mammals.b In some communities, large “heritage” or “veteran” trees that have persisted through decades of challenging conditions become local treasures, with sentimental attachment.c For example, in Dakar, Senegal, the iconic baobabs, like many of the region’s trees, are in jeopardy, threatened by climate change, urbanization, and population growth. Baobabs outside the city are being cleared for palm oil and cocoa plantations, but in the city the few surviving veteran baobabs serve as iconic landmarks:d town hall meeting spots where municipal decisions are made and resting places where city residents can find some reprieve from the day’s heat.

Many cities ensure the protection of these valuable individual trees through special heritage tree ordinances.e Some even create dedicated registers of these urban giants to increase public awareness and facilitate their protection.f For example, the city of Washington, DC, requires permits and payment of hefty fees for removal of large trees and prohibits the removal of trees greater than 100 inches (254 centimeters) in circumference, which are classified as heritage trees.g Likewise, the city of Melbourne has created guidelines to ensure that trees are protected from damage during construction and maintains a registry of “exceptional trees” to offer additional protection from significant pruning or damage.h Regulations and monitoring programs such as these make it easier for trees to mature into large, attractive specimens that provide greater ecosystem services to people and urban wildlife alike.

Young trees in the understories of forests are the older trees of tomorrow. Alongside older trees, ensuring that the next generation of trees is protected by policy, sufficient new green space, and measures to protect the forest understory from foot traffic and other disturbance is also key for forest sustainability.

Sources: a. Prevedello et al. 2017; b. Stagoll et al. 2012; c. Jim 2005; d. Searcey 2018; e, f. Jim 2005; g. DDOT n.d.; h. City of Melbourne 2019.

  • Align forest monitoring metrics with city goals. Measuring the right thing is critical to achieving and assessing specific benefits. Canopy cover is often measured to assess urban forests within cities, but it does not provide comprehensive information for all forest benefits. Using proper metrics to evaluate and track urban forests can help align goals, actions, and outcomes. In addition to canopy cover, focus on other forest qualities that improve forest function, such as biodiversity, location, forest type, dominant species, quality of the understory vegetation, location, size, and other metrics that align with the goals for these forests (Pregitzer et al. 2019).
  • Articulate clear goals. These are a few examples:
    • Increase forest canopy by X percent. The appropriate canopy cover targets will depend on what is appropriate for local conditions (e.g., climate; natural tree canopy cover outside the city) and should be used with additional targets—such as species diversity or a mix of stand ages—to ensure forest diversity and health. In Barcelona’s Trees for Life: Master Plan for Barcelona’s Trees,39 the city set a target to increase tree canopy by 5 percentage points for a total of 30 percent (Barcelona City Council 2017).
    • Ensure every resident has green space within half a mile of home. Cities are seeking to achieve equitable access to green space. For example, Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan40 pledged that all Vancouver residents would live within a five-minute walk of a park, greenway, or other green space by 2020 (City of Vancouver 2012).
    • Reduce heat island or stormwater threats by X percent. Cities are establishing targets that address climate risks such as flooding, drought, and heat. In Australia, Western Sydney’s Turn Down the Heat: Strategy and Action Plan41 has set targets to reduce average peak ambient temperatures in the city by 1.5°C through greening and cool materials strategies by 2023 (WSROC 2018).

Planning: Inner forests

  • Develop an urban forest management plan. The plan should be scientifically informed, based on nationally or internationally recognized standards, take climate change into consideration, and prioritize native species. It should also encourage education, outreach, and, if possible, support or training for private landowners—the majority landowners in many cities. Some cities have created dedicated urban forestry departments to take charge of this, but others coordinate this effort between multiple municipal agencies. Developing a robust urban forest management plan can help maximize ecosystem services from the urban forest, which includes street trees, parks, natural areas, and other urban forests (Box 11).
  • Designate land specifically for natural areas. Even small patches of forests—in parks, vacant lots, along roadways, and in industrial areas—can provide access to nature in under-served areas. For example, the Miyawaki method, in which diverse plantings of trees and shrubs are used to create microforests, has been used to create local access to nature and increase urban biodiversity in many cities (Nargi 2019).

Box 11 | Developing a Robust Urban Forest Management Plan

Urban forest management plans take stock of the forest condition (e.g., age and species diversity; overall health), threats and challenges to existing and future trees, indicate possible protected areas, and identify areas to be restored, and/or managed. They should also define stakeholder roles and outline specific forest management actions (e.g., thinning overstocked forest stands to reduce fire risk, managing pests or invasive species, setting aside protected areas, planting trees, or managing riparian areas).

A strong urban forest management plan should contain the following:

  • A vision statement for the city’s canopy
  • An inventory or other assessment of the urban forest
  • A description of goals, objectives, measurable targets, and actions
  • An implementation plan describing dates and responsibilities
  • An ongoing monitoring plan
  • A list of qualifications and training requirements and how these will be met
  • A budgeting and funding strategya

Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy: Making a Great City Greener 2012–2032 provides an example of a comprehensive urban forest management plan, informed by data and shaped to reflect the realities of the city. Its framing structure can be adapted and used by other cities. The strategy defines a clear, simple vision for Melbourne; describes the condition of and major challenges facing the city’s trees and forests; establishes principles that address key challenges; and defines strategies, targets, and priority actions. Key cornerstones include interagency coordination, community engagement, and understanding the benefits urban forests provide to communities.b

Johannesburg’s End Street North Park piloted an example of creating a plan through extensively engaging local stakeholders using different methods.c The United Nations Human Settlements Programme facilitated the use of the video game MineCraft as a community participation tool for public space design, and a local community organization, Sticky Situations, led participatory mapping exercises and other techniques to understand how the park is used and to engage the community in its redesign.d

For additional actionable information on urban forest management, see the Cities4Forests “Learning Guide: Urban Forests for Healthier Cities: Policy, Planning, Regulations, and Institutional Arrangements.”e

Notes: For more information about the Urban Forest Strategy, see; to learn more about End Street North Park, see

Sources: Adapted from Juno and Virsilas 2019; a. Ordóñez and Duinker 2013; Gibbons and Ryan 2015; California Urban Forest Council 2018; b. City of Melbourne 2014; c. SaferSpaces n.d.; d. Mavuso 2016; e. Juno and Virsilas 2019.

  • Create connectivity. Connecting landscapes and urban green spaces supports plant and animal populations, including songbirds and pollinators. Corridors of diverse native forest can facilitate the movement of pollinators, support wildlife, provide space to alleviate stress, increase foot and bike commuting, and reduce exposure to pollution for residents. Successful examples of green corridor projects include the Medellín Green Corridors (UNEP 2019) and the Barcelona Green Corridor Network (O’Sullivan 2017).

Partnerships: Inner forests

  • Seek out organizations conducting innovative work on inner forests and propose partnership models to share resources and track outcomes. Work with credible, long-standing organizations with the capabilities and resources to conserve, create, and manage parks and other natural areas. Working with these organizations can help to both manage forests and build community-based stewardship. For example, the Natural Areas Conservancy42 in New York City is a formalized partnership that focuses on maintaining and improving the city’s vast natural areas network, integrating the city’s needs with the conservation benefits these areas provide, and providing extensive community outreach.
  • Cultivate interagency and cross-jurisdictional collaboration. Managing forests for multiple benefits that span different city agencies (including health, water, forestry, environment, and parks/recreation) can provide more benefits from the same amount of resources. Different agencies are also responsible for delivering and managing urban forestry, parks and open space, and green infrastructure in cities. The Joint Benefits Authority43 is an example of a new mechanism that will allow multiple departments within a city to jointly plan, implement, and finance these types of transformative projects by quantifying the range of benefits that cross agency mandates (Box 12).

Finance: Inner forests

  • Explore diverse, long-term financing mechanisms to manage, protect, and expand urban forests. Innovative financing tools include the following:
    • Green bonds and climate bonds fund projects that have positive environmental and/or climate impacts through the use of proceeds or asset-linked bonds. The Netherlands issued one of the world’s largest green bonds in 2019 (about $6.8 billion) to finance natural infrastructure solutions crucial for protecting its low-lying regions from sea level rise (Anderson, J., et al. 2019).
    • Pay for performance environmental impact bonds (also known as pay for success bonds and social benefit bonds) allow private investors to fund specific interventions and earn a return based on performance (i.e., paying for results rather than services). In 2019 Atlanta announced a $14 million impact bond for private investors to finance innovative green infrastructure projects to address critical flooding and water quality issues, reduce stormwater runoff, and enhance the quality of life in certain neighborhoods (Water Finance & Management 2019). Investors are paid back as the green infrastructure “performs” by reducing the impacts of stormwater flooding—such as damage to public infrastructure, private houses, and people’s lives—thereby saving the city money related to clean up costs.
    • Community-based public-private partnerships between local governments and private entities align the interests of public, private, and community stakeholders around common goals. In 2020, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District launched to capture rainfall runoff and prevent downstream flooding and sewer system contamination issues (MMSD 2020). The partnership will identify priority areas for green infrastructure based on the ability to support program goals, such as reducing overflow volumes, reducing localized flooding, and improving water quality. It reduces the risk for taxpayers as the private entity partner (a design engineering firm) is paid based on performance (i.e., the volume of water attained).
    • Tree-planting funds collect funds from taxes and stormwater fees. In Madison, Wisconsin, the city council has adopted a special charge—collected as part of the Madison Water Utility’s municipal services bill—to support its growing urban forestry program and protect the vital services that the city’s urban forest provides (City of Madison n.d.).
    • Tree banks collect funds from public and private developers when trees are removed and their replacement value (in terms of the ecosystem services they were providing) cannot be achieved; they also support replacements in other places throughout the city.
    • Mitigation fees, such as those adopted by Maryland’s Montgomery County, require that development activities regulated by the county’s Tree Canopy Law mitigate their impacts by planting shade trees on sites where building disturbance occurs or pay the equivalent fees into the county’s Tree Canopy Conservation Account (Montgomery County Government 2017).
    • Integrate forests into city environmental compliance plans. Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program (PWD 2011) integrated green and gray solutions based on a triple bottom line approach (Green 2013) that is already paying off (Hess 2019).
    • Incentivize city residents to support trees and forests through tax reductions. For example, residents could be incentivized to plant trees for green stormwater infrastructure on private property via reduced stormwater fees (Berland et al. 2017). San Francisco’s Urban Watershed Stewardship Grant supports similar community-based projects managing stormwater and greening the city (SFPUC n.d.).

Markets: Inner forests

  • Develop a wood waste reuse program. Rather than disposing of waste from street and yard trees in landfills, municipalities can develop wood waste reuse programs. Dead trees can become wood chips or fuel or salvaged for timber or architectural purposes. For example, Baltimore has implemented a wood reuse program, the Baltimore Wood Project (Room & Board 2018), which salvages wood from demolished buildings and street trees to repurpose them into furniture and other household items, creating jobs and reducing waste (Juno and Hines 2019).

Nearby Forests: Watershed and Recreation Areas around Cities

Cities can work with other levels of government and agencies to support the conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of nearby forests; many world-class examples exist of cities working to support nearby forests. Since most nearby forests fall outside city agency jurisdiction, partnership and collaboration with state, provincial, and federal government agencies, landowners and managers, and watershed stakeholders will be necessary for recommendation implementation.

Measurement and monitoring: Nearby forests

  • Map peri-urban and watershed forests and identify where forests are being lost around a city. Collaborate with other cross-jurisdictional stakeholders, including regional/state governments and organizations working in watershed areas. When possible, map forest type (e.g., plantation versus natural forest) as well as total forest cover. Understanding where forests are, where loss is occurring, and where restoration opportunities exist is essential for planning engagement with nearby forests (Box 12). Cities can use tools such as Global Forest Watch44 to identify significant areas of forest loss.

Box 12 | Mapping as a Key Tool for Watershed Restoration Planning: Jakarta, Indonesia; Extrema, Brazil

Mapping is a crucial component of watershed planning and can be used to identify the most effective course of action, inform policy, engage stakeholders, and solidify partnerships.

In Jakarta, World Resources Institute Indonesia used Global Forest Watch Water to map the extent of forest loss in Jakarta’s Ciliwung watershed to assess the impact of upstream forest loss on downstream urban flooding. The analysis produced recommendations to reduce the frequency and intensity of Jakarta’s floods, including reforestation, assisted natural regeneration, and agroforestry. The city has since piloted innovative solutions to protect the forested areas around the city. A payment for ecosystem services (PES) scheme in the Cidanau watershed used revenue from water pricing collected by a multistakeholder organization to fund reforestation upstream, helping to ensure clean water for the downstream residents.a

At a regional level, the Extrema municipality, on the border of the state of São Paulo, is located in the upper watershed basins of the Piracicaba, Capivari, and Jundiaí Rivers, a region partly responsible for supplying water to the 9 million residents of São Paulo and 3 million residents of Campinas. Officials mapped forest cover and potential sites for forest restoration and launched the Conservador das Águas program, Brazil’s first successful PES scheme that has facilitated the restoration of more than 6,000 hectares of forest (more than 1.3 million native trees) in Extrema’s watershed. The program increased water yield—to the tune of billions of liters of water—for downstream communities and is being scaled to other cities in the Serra da Mantiqueira region through the Mantiqueira Conservator program.

Note: For more information about Conservador das Águas, see

Source: a. Finlayson 2013.

  • Quantify the benefits of trees in areas around a city. Understanding the benefits from trees can help garner support from residents and partners to support watershed management for a city’s water supply. Tools such as Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) can be used to quantify and understand the current benefits and values of trees around a city (Natural Capital Project n.d.). For example, in Baoxing, China, county officials used InVEST to estimate and map annual sediment retention, water retention, and carbon sequestration provided by the city’s conservation areas. Mapping results were overlaid with a biodiversity map to identify areas suitable for development with minimum negative impacts on the environment. This analysis showed that protected areas produce essential ecosystem services but that some key areas had development projects planned. The results led to local government officials reconsidering the development projects while drafting the Baoxing Land Use Master Plan in 2010.

Planning: Nearby forests

  • Support the development of a nearby forest management plan with measurable goals and success metrics. A city could provide resources such as funding and administrative support and could participate in a goal-setting process. The plan should do the following:
    • Be scientifically informed and climate resilient, build on best practices, and be contextualized to the watershed.
    • Consider the network of actors required for success. Watershed management plans are often driven by water utilities, but they also need to take the interests of key actors such as city and community beneficiaries, landowners, and county/state/provincial governments into account (Trivedi et al. 2020). Tools such as the Mapping Social Landscapes Guide can help to identify the priorities and values of the suite of stakeholders involved (Buckingham et al. 2018).
    • Be tailored to the local context. What works in a large watershed may not work in a small one, and what works in a pristine watershed may fall short in a highly degraded one (Postel and Thompson 2005). For example, focusing on improving forests as the key to watershed management worked well in the Kinda Dam Watershed Project in Myanmar, where population densities were low and the selective focus made it easy to implement, but this strategy was unsuccessful for the Tarbela and Mangla Dam Watershed Project in Pakistan, where population densities were higher and the limited perspective failed to integrate the greater extent of human needs and activities (Upadhyay 2005).
  • Articulate clear goals. These are a couple of examples:
    • Restore X ha by 2030. In January 2017, Brazil’s National Plan for Native Vegetation Recovery was issued as Federal Decree No. 8,972 entitled “National Policy for Native Vegetation Recovery.” This policy aims to articulate and promote practices, programs, and actions that encourage forest and other native vegetation recovery on at least 12 million ha of land throughout the country.
    • Remove invasive species from key watersheds. For example, the city of Cape Town has begun restoring nearby water catchments, including by removing invasive exotic tree species such as pines and eucalyptus (Crawford 2020). Replacing 0.4 ha of invasive species with native vegetation could save more than 386,417 liters of water annually, allowing for accelerated replenishment of Cape Town’s water storage dams and thereby preventing the next Day Zero.

Partnerships: Nearby forests

  • Articulate and amplify shared goals. Forming collaboratives between city agencies and other forest or land management groups/levels of government to rally support can be an effective way to do this (Case Study 9). For example, an initiative between the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Denver Water known as Forests to Faucets,45 has the collective aim of reducing wildfire watershed risks and improving conditions across Colorado’s Front Range. Together, they have invested over $64 million in fuel reductions and forest health across 29,500 ha (CSU n.d.).

Finance: Nearby forests

  • Clarify that forest protection and management are eligible infrastructure expenses. Many existing funds for infrastructure have not clearly stated their ability or priority for funding NBS such as forests. Explicitly making NBS eligible for funds can open new funding sources for forest protection and management.
  • Make the economic and business case and conduct a Green-Gray Assessment. These assessments can be used to assess the costs and benefits of green infrastructure for water supply systems and other ecosystem services (Box 13).

Box 13 | Application of the Green-Gray Assessment in Brazilian Watersheds to Evaluate the Potential Benefits to Cities

The Green-Gray Assessment (GGA) method of World Resources Institute (WRI) allows stakeholders to value the costs and benefits of integrating green or natural infrastructure into water supply systems to improve performance.a It has been applied by WRI in multiple watershed systems in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia.

In São Paulo, a GGA conducted by WRI and WRI Brasil found that restoring 4,000 hectares (nearly 10,000 acres) of priority watershed forests could reduce sediment pollution by 36 percent within 30 years, reducing turbidity by almost half and potentially boosting water supply when it is most scarce. A similar study in Rio de Janeiro's Camboriú watershed suggests that with appropriate water tariff restructuring that incorporates watershed conservation costs into water user fees (something that other studies on the average household willingness to pay for water security report is possible), up-front investment in forest conservation would be financially justified. Recognizing the potential benefits of watershed forest conservation, the Balneário Camboriú municipality undertook a review of a new water tariff structure that would incorporate watershed conservation and cover the program’s full operational costs.

Sources: Ozment et al. 2018; a. Gray et al. 2019.

  • Establish upstream-downstream partnerships to finance watershed management. These partnerships can take many forms, but all have one thing in common: an upstream stakeholder incentivized to take protective actions to conserve or restore forests by downstream beneficiaries (Boxes 13 and 14; Wunder 2005). The key to tapping into sources of financing to protect these nearby forests is to identify the beneficiaries of the services that forests offer. Arrangements between upstream land managers and downstream water users should be mutually beneficial and equitable, and they can include partnerships between upstream landholders and /or upwind landholders (those in the “precipitation sheds” of cities) who provide forest ecosystem services and downstream water to users (Postel and Thompson 2005).

Box 14 | Funding Mechanisms for Watershed Management and Protection

Green bonds. These bonds fund projects with positive environmental and/or climate benefits. For example, Central Arkansas Water, the largest drinking water utility in Arkansas, relies on its forested watershed to offer affordable, reliable filtration services as a component of its drinking water treatment process. The utility has a dedicated watershed protection fee that goes into a fund to finance the prevention of future development of the watershed, and recently the utility bonded those fees to issue the first-ever certified green bond to acquire forestlands for drinking water.a

Public-private partnerships. An example of such partnerships is the Forest Resilience Bond (FRB). The FRB is an innovative collaborative financing bond that mobilizes private capital to fund the up-front costs of forest restoration work across varied landownerships and increases the pace and scale of work to improve forest health and reduce the risk of devastating wildfire in priority watersheds.b The FRB was first piloted in the Tahoe National Forest, where private investors invested US$4.6 million to pay for immediate restoration treatments, and beneficiaries, including the State of California, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Yuba Water Utility, repay over the tenure of the FRB.c

Water funds. Water funds provide a mechanism through which downstream beneficiaries of enhanced water services are able to pay for upstream investments that are essential for securing downstream security, oftentimes both in terms of quality and quantity. For example, the municipality of Quito, the city’s water company, and The Nature Conservancy created the Fund for the Protection of Water (Fondos de Agua; FONAG)d to address simultaneously increasing water demands and watershed degradation. The FONAG board includes public, private, and nongovernmental organization watershed actors, providing a mechanism for joint investment in watershed protection, including supporting communities that live there. FONAG receives $1.5 million annually, supported in large part by Quito’s water company, and to date has protected and restored more than 40,000 hectares of paramos and Andean forests with the support of more than 400 local families.e Since the establishment of the Quito water fund, others have been developed for Nairobi and Cape Town.f

Rate surcharges. These include taxes levied on top of regular water utility charges for environmental enhancement projects and are designed to establish and maintain city watershed protection programs. In North Carolina, to protect and improve drinking water quality in Raleigh, the local utility, Raleigh Water, uses a dedicated watershed protection fee to fund a partnership of land trusts through the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative.g The initiative supports projects involving nature-based solutions for stormwater management on behalf of urban communities, and upstream acquisition, easements, or payments for improved land management practices in watersheds. This consistent funding model and inclusive approach has protected 182 kilometers of stream banks on 4,246 hectares—a huge success in a rapidly urbanizing landscape.h

Sources: a. Fatin 2020; b. Blue Forest Conservation n.d.; c. WRI 2018; d. TNC n.d.a; e. Fondos de Agua n.d.; f. TNC n.d.b; g. CTNC n.d.; h. Upstream Matters n.d.

Markets: Nearby forests

  • Implement a robust procurement policy for local, sustainably sourced wood. Sourcing sustainability produced wood from carefully managed forests around cities can support forest conservation. For example, the city of Barcelona recognized the power of its public procurement. It implemented its first timber procurement policy in 2004 (most recently updated in 2015) as part of the city’s public procurement initiative to enrich cultural values, improve social equity, foster innovation, and support environmental sustainability through its buying power. During the policy’s first four years, 76 percent of wood procured (4,673 cubic meters) was Forest Stewardship Council certified or equivalent.
  • Explore the role of carbon markets to finance forest conservation or restoration. Carbon markets vary widely in terms of scope, design, rules, regulations, and implementation. Individual approaches to carbon markets need to be context specific to enable a sustainable carbon price, incentivize investment, and encourage transparent auditing and accountability. Cities using this strategy should ensure that supply meets the criteria in Seymour and Langer (2021). King County in Washington State established the Forest Carbon Program, providing the opportunity for local companies to purchase carbon credits and support healthy forests within the county. In the first five years, King County estimates that the program will store at least 100,000 tCO2 that otherwise would have been emitted into the atmosphere (King County 2020).

Case Study 9 | How the Catskills Filter Water for New York City’s 8 Million Residents

New York City (NYC) conserved forest and natural landscapes in the Catskills to save on water filtration costs. The city invested US$1.5 billion to protect more than 404,686 hectares of mostly forested watershed area, ultimately avoiding $6–$8 billion on the cost of building a water filtration plant.a

To comply with the federal regulations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, NYC had to choose to either construct a new filtration plant (at a cost of $6 billion, with an estimated $300 million in annual operation costs) or demonstrate that it was committed to the protection of the Catskill-Delaware Watershed, a heavily forested region that supplies the vast majority of the city’s water. NYC chose to meet its residents’ needs via the latter, a nature-based solution.

Following negotiations with a broad array of stakeholders, in 1997 NYC signed an agreement to invest $1.5 billion over a decade in the protection, restoration, and local economy of the watershed. This included doubling the amount of protected land around the watershed’s eight reservoirs and expanding the amount of watershed lands open to mixed use, including recreation, fishing, and hiking. NYC partnered with local organizations to ensure that agriculture, forestry, wastewater management, and development are implemented in ways that generate minimal erosion and pollution. Funding for this program came from bonds issued by NYC and additional taxes on residential water bills.

Sources: Summarized from Postel and Thompson (2005); a. Gartner et al. 2013.

Faraway forests: Intact and remote forests, especially in the tropics

Conserving tropical forests is essential for mitigating climate change, conserving biodiversity, and regulating the global hydrological cycle. Deforestation rates in the tropics have soared in the past several decades and remain high (Hansen et al. 2013; FAO 2020). Recommendations for faraway forests include conducting a citywide forest footprint analysis as well as establishing mutually beneficial partnerships between city leadership (especially procurement managers) and tropical forest stakeholders. Cities can explore multiple ways to integrate faraway forest outcomes into their plans for climate, biodiversity, and local resident engagement and awareness campaigns (Box 15).

Box 15 | The Importance of Communications and Resident Engagement

To achieve their forest-related goals, city officials must be able to communicate effectively with city residents, political leadership, and other city departments. Investing in communications and resident engagement can help build support for forest-related policies at the ballot box, inspire volunteerism, persuade landowners to plant or maintain trees on private property, and elevate trees and forests as a city priority. The recommendations below draw from recent examples of successful communications and resident engagement strategies in cities that the authors have selected as scalable and applicable to other cities:

  • Cultivate champions and advocates to drive change and progress on urban green space. Individuals in city agencies or local communities aligned with a given cause often drive change within their respective spheres and can be key for pushing forward new policies or actions to support forests. Champions are leaders within key decision-making bodies like government agencies and utilities who help partners navigate bureaucracy and gain necessary approvals of funding allocations, bond measures, and regulatory compliance. Advocates are leaders, often from community groups or nongovernmental organizations, who help form alliances among key stakeholders, lobby interest groups, measure public opinion, and garner public support. Both champions and advocates are critical for effective communications, both within city government and externally.
  • Articulate clear goals. Concrete, measurable targets can serve as a powerful tool to communicate with both decision-makers and public audiences by defining what success looks like, offering a goal to rally around, and setting a baseline against which to measure progress (see the planning section for each forest level).
  • Educate urban communities about the value of trees and healthy forests. Cities can use educational campaigns and calls to action to engage with residents and businesses to support urban forests. For example, Ontario created the Urban Forest Call to Actiona and Toolkit,b and a new outreach campaign from Trees Atlanta,c “Learn. Do. Give.,” educates residents about the benefits of trees to broaden support for the urban forest. At the faraway forest level, awareness campaigns for city residents and businesses could also focus on communicating the impact of deforestation-linked commodities on tropical forests and sustainable alternatives. For example, Oslo used a public awareness strategy on the links between palm oil and tropical deforestation to great effect, ultimately increasing consumer awareness and decreasing palm oil consumption in foods and goods (Case Study 8).
  • Engage youth through classroom education and field trips. For example, Little Rock’s drinking water utility, Central Arkansas Water,d engages younger generations by taking them on field tours of the forests that provision local drinking water and articulating the benefits of a healthy forested watershed for drinking water quality. It also hosts an annual “What Do You Know about H20” public awareness event in which the utility gives out free water and educational information about its hybrid green-gray approach to drinking water treatment.e
  • Use storytelling and highly visible demonstration projects to garner local interest and support for faraway forest conservation and partnerships. Faraway forests are the most geographically distant from cities, and their benefits and threats may be poorly understood by city residents. This does, however, present unique opportunities for creative communications campaigns and demonstration projects. For example, in 2020 the Brooklyn Bridge Forest project won the international Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge design competition to make the bridge safer, more accessible, and more sustainable. This proposal seeks to restore the bridge’s pedestrian promenade with sustainably sourced tropical hardwood originating from a community-managed partner forest in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve. A key element of the project includes interpretive signs and cultural and educational programming linking New York City residents with Guatemala's Uaxactún community that can link people across geographic boundaries and help generate interest and empathy that supports environmental and cultural sustainability (Case Study 10).

Sources: Authors (based on a synthesis of best practices from discussions with cities and city-oriented nature-based solution projects); a. GIO 2015; b. GIO n.d.; c. Trees Atlanta n.d.; d, e. Central Arkansas Water n.d.

Measurement and monitoring: Faraway forests

  • Conduct a citywide analysis of consumption linked to tropical deforestation. Cities consume a disproportionately large amount of the world’s resources—they are where most of the world’s population lives, and urban residents typically use more resources per capita than their national averages (Baabou et al. 2017). The Cities4Forests Forest Footprint46 tool calculates a city’s impact on tropical forests, and the GHG emissions associated with this deforestation (Cities4Forests n.d.b).
  • Identify local initiatives and attitudes towards promoting deforestation-free commodities. Understanding local attitudes and behaviors related to tropical deforestation can be key to supporting political action. A poll may provide valuable insight for foregrounding action. For example, many cities polled resident opinions on climate change, but deforestation polls are uncommon. There are some national examples too: Brazil, France, and Indonesia have all undertaken surveys on attitudes towards deforestation (Copsey et al. 2013).
  • Articulate clear goals to guide action. For example, X percent of tropical wood and forest-risk commodities will be sustainably procured by Y date. For instance, in 2004 the French national government committed that 50 percent of timber and wood products would be procured from sustainably managed and legal forests by 2007, with 100 percent procurement by 2010.

Planning: Faraway forests

  • Calculate and develop an action plan to reduce the consumption of forest-risk commodities and city-driven CO2 emissions associated with deforestation. Set goals for reducing deforestation and associated GHGs and track progress on reducing deforestation. For example, by using the Forest Footprint tool, Quito has identified the size of its forest impact and the key drivers of commodity consumption linked to tropical deforestation—most notably, beef. Quito’s Environmental Secretariat adopted the tool in early 2020 and is currently exploring options for mitigative action. Quito is also working on integrating its Forest Footprint into its 2040 Climate Action Plan with the goal of integrating forest conservation and restoration to mitigate climate change.

Partnerships: Faraway forests

  • Establish a partner forest program. A partner forest is a faraway (usually tropical) forest connected to a city through a mutually beneficial exchange. The city supports the partner forest by directing its purchasing power towards a product or service that the forest provides within a well-established forest conservation model (Case Study 10). The goal of the partner forest program is to visibly support a tropical forest that provides direct benefits to the city and raise awareness of those benefits among city residents (Cities4Forests n.d.c). Examples of possible connections include the following:
    • Engage local businesses to import and market forest-positive goods (such as coffee, timber, or chocolate) from the partner forest. For example, the Seattle Zoo is sourcing coffee from a partner forest in Papua New Guinea47 that houses astounding biodiversity, including tree kangaroos (TKCP-PNG n.d.). Marketing this coffee in the city brings residents into the conservation story.
    • Use products from the partner forest in city infrastructure. For example, the Brooklyn Bridge Forest model for New York City would source wood for the pedestrian boardwalk from a community forest in Guatemala to support its forest conservation efforts (Case Study 10).
    • Partner with a forest that has a direct link to migratory species, such as birds or butterflies that are iconic and/or seasonally present in the city. For example, Toronto is exploring a coffee-sourcing relationship with the Birds and the Beans, a local roaster that sources only certified bird-friendly coffee. Beans sourced from Central America would help conserve forests where many North American birds overwinter.
    • Partner with a forest in an area with cultural ties to the city, such as a large immigrant community from Puerto Rico in New York City and the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.
    • Create an educational exchange involving a research center in the forest connected to a university situated in the city. For example, the United Kingdom’s Sussex University has partnered with the Santa Lucia Cloud Forest reserve in Ecuador, sending classes of students each year to conduct research while providing financial support to the reserve (University of Sussex n.d.).
  • Establish relationships with organizations involved in forest conservation, restoration, and sustainable management to help implement faraway forest programs (e.g., forest-friendly procurement; partner forest program). In particular, plan and implement faraway forest activities with environmental organizations that work with Indigenous peoples and local communities with a good track record of sustainable forest management, conservation, and/or restoration. Be aware that the high costs of instruments, such as sustainability certifications, can be prohibitive for many local and Indigenous communities and small and medium enterprises, and that partner organizations can help to showcase their work and/or help to provide certification. For example, during the 1990s Starbucks joined forces with Conservation International to find a reliable and ethical source of coffee (Perez-Aleman and Sandilands 2008). Since then, Starbucks and the organization have codeveloped the Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices as a verification program to expand ethical and sustainable sourcing throughout Starbucks’ supply chain (Vander Velde 2018).
  • Call on state and national governments and businesses and financiers to conserve, restore, and better manage tropical forests. This could include advocating for the adoption of policies and commitments at both national (i.e., within the same country) and regional (i.e., between regions across one forest system) levels to restore forests and expand forest cover. For example, the Brazilian National Front of Mayors48—a network of mayors from Brazil’s 400 largest cities—has raised the importance of forest conservation and restoration with the Brazilian government by effectively aggregating the voices of multiple mayors through one platform. In September 2021, more than 50 city mayors issued the Cities4Forests Call to Action on Forests and Climate,49 urging national and subnational governments, companies, and financial institutions to urgently ramp up policies and investments to support forest conservation, restoration, and sustainable forest management (Anderson et al. 2021).
  • Incentivize the use of responsibly sourced products from forest-risk commodities (produced or sold within the city) by working with local food producers and suppliers. For example, the UK city of Chester, led by the Chester Zoo and the local member of Parliament, worked to encourage local businesses to use and sell palm oil products certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. This recently led to Chester being certified as the world’s first sustainable palm oil city50 (Chester Zoo 2019).

Finance: Faraway forests

  • Compensate for urban emissions by funding tropical forest conservation. Cities will have difficulty reaching carbon neutrality by cutting emissions alone. Financing tropical forest conservation and restoration offer ways to compensate for remaining emissions (Case Study 8). A “climate co-op” could be created where cities purchase high-quality forest carbon credits via the voluntary carbon market to finance long-term forest conservation with associated carbon benefits. Communicating the carbon benefits of the co-op can incentivize local business participation (Box 16).
  • Match conservation and restoration efforts in the city with conservation in faraway forests. Creating tangible connections between either inner or nearby and faraway forest conservation can build local awareness of how important it is to support faraway forests. For example, for every tree planted within the city, support parallel restoration efforts in a tropical forest by dedicating a percentage of funds to a suitable tropical forest conservation or restoration project. Use monitoring of this restoration as a way to maintain resident engagement and follow up (through social media, etc.). For example, the London Enfield Council woodland restoration in the United Kingdom partnered with urban reforestation in Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea, where 50,000 trees are being planted. The idea was to diversify and expand the impact of local tree planting by linking it to tropical restoration, with associated awareness-raising opportunities in the United Kingdom.

Box 16 | A Climate Co-op for Cities to Fund a Partner Forest for Carbon Capture

Cities4Forests’ experience with implementing partner forest programs shows that scope exists for cities to create voluntary forest carbon cooperative funds through which local businesses and residents can contribute to a well-established partner tropical forest conservation program.a Contributors could take advantage of positive brand messaging and publicity, and cities could increase their status as climate and conservation leaders. Existing corporate social responsibility budgets would be the first source of funds. The advantages of such programs include the economy of scale to attain higher quality carbon impact per dollar, compared to one-off tree planting programs, better oversight and long-term relationship-building between city and partner forest, and investment in programs that are both scalable and long term, providing many other benefits to cities. Such programs would provide business participants with simple carbon audit tools for self-assessment of their emissions and a framework for voluntary contribution based on levels.

Source: a. Cities4Forests n.d.c.

Markets: Faraway forests

  • Establish ecotourism ventures to conserve and sustainably manage forests threatened by competing land-use pressures. Cities can support the implementation of community owned and operated sustainable tourism programs (Fitzgerald n.d.) by promoting these among their residents to develop a steady clientele pipeline, thereby bolstering the efforts of regional governments and conservation organizations to boost local economies through job creation and increased investment while also preserving faraway forests for endangered species and important landscapes.
  • Initiate tropical forest-positive procurement policies and campaigns. Cities can implement policies that discourage the purchase of commodities implicated in deforestation and provide incentives for purchasing better-sourced commodities or alternatives with lower tropical forest impacts. Tropical timber, coffee, and chocolate are commodities that are especially amenable to this approach (Hylander and Nemomissa 2009; De Beenhouwer et al. 2013; Böhnert et al. 2016). Palm oil, beef, and soy are also good candidates for campaigns (Case Study 8). Promoting awareness of deforestation and changing urban consumption behavior and culture is a first step that cities can take towards these goals. The World Wide Fund for Nature’s Earth Hour City Challenge, in which cities can report actions, data, and “wins” to reduce carbon emissions via a carbon reporting platform for cities, is one example of the impact that cities working together can have even through small reductions to city footprints (WWF 2016).
  • These are a few specific ideas for procurement innovation:
    • Make municipal procurement policies forest friendly. When the city government purchases supplies for its own use—construction, office supplies, food, and so forth—it can source sustainably and track the deforestation impact as a way to showcase impact and engage residents. High impact, visible commodities to start with include wood and coffee (Case Study 10).
    • Commit to deforestation-free products. Increased demand by cities for sustainably sourced forest products can support the sustainable use of forest lands and drive increased transparency in public and private sector supply chains. For instance, McDonald’s has committed to eliminating deforestation within its supply chains by 2030 using its power of procurement to increase sustainable practices on the ground and avoid purchasing fiber from deforestation areas (McDonald’s 2022).
    • Boost “creative class” innovation on supply chain reform. Incentivize and support local businesses and entrepreneurs to innovate on forest-positive sourcing/supply chains. Support could come as grants, tax breaks, and in-kind support such as incubator hubs or consulting services from local NGOs.
      • Tap into or create municipal innovation funds to support novel business ideas for pressing challenges, such as New York City’s Social Innovation Fund.51
      • Apply for innovation funds from national-level grants. For example, the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance Innovation Fund has provided $2.4 million to 27 city-led early-stage innovation projects since 2015. The fund focuses on decarbonization and has supported recent projects in Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, and Yokohama (CNCA n.d.).

Case Study 10 | Partner Forest Design Concept: Brooklyn Bridge Forest

In 2020, the New York City Council and the Van Allen Institute hosted the Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge competition to foster design ideas that rethink the iconic bridge. The winning design, “Brooklyn Bridge Forest,” incorporated elements linking both inner and faraway forests.

The much-loved wooden pedestrian boardwalk of the historic Brooklyn Bridge Promenade in New York City needs to be upgraded and is approaching its next replacement cycle. Wood is an integral part of the Brooklyn Bridge experience, and tropical hardwood has historically been used for its strength and durability.

Tropical hardwood is often obtained in ways that damage rain forests and local cultures. Extracting timber can degrade forests and often precedes further clearing for agriculture. On the other hand, carefully managed timber harvesting can be a force for conservation, providing an economic incentive to keep the forest standing instead of converting it to cropland or cattle pasture. When tropical forest communities can make a living from the forest without removing it, they become forest protectors who often outperform national parks.a

The Brooklyn Bridge Forest design would place New York City as a leader in protecting forests by using timber sourced from a Forest Stewardship Council–certified “partner forest” in the tropics. Choosing sustainably sourced timber would help to address the root causes of deforestation by supporting local communities that have chosen to safeguard tropical forests. Specifically, the design proposes that the 11,000 new planks for the Brooklyn Bridge be provided through a partnership with the Guatemalan community of Uaxactun, who protect approximately 80,937 hectares of rain forest. Their low-intensity harvest model—(one tree per 0.4 hectares every 40 years)—has provided income to the community while keeping the rate of deforestation nearly at zero for over 25 years—a unique success in a region where deforestation is rampant.

A dedicated Brooklyn Bridge Forest would be endowed by sponsors for each of the 11,000 planks. The dedicated forest would ensure that the promenade boardwalk has the wood it needs for centuries to come, support the partner community economically, and provide the global environment with a new and powerful ally: the people of New York and the friends of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Note: To learn more about the Brooklyn Bridge Forest, see

Source: a. Bray and Velazquez 2009.

Concluding Thoughts

The recommendations above represent an investment in forests with returns for cities and their residents that are compounded as trees and forests grow. Engaging with all three levels of forest is key to the sustainable future of cities—each provides unique and essential services to city residents. Some forest benefits are more tangible and immediate—and can be increased directly through action within city boundaries. But cities also depend on forests everywhere, and some of the biggest gains for cities can be had by conserving forests outside their boundaries. Tropical forests are both highly threatened and provide benefits that are essential to all city residents, especially those in marginalized communities. These include maintaining rainfall in many cities and the agricultural regions that feed cities, mitigating climate change, and potentially even helping to prevent future pandemics. Global actions to conserve tropical forests have been insufficient. It is clear that additional action is required, and cities are well poised to quickly rally support and influence consumption patterns.

There is no time to waste. As the well-known proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” City actions towards improving the livability of cities, helping to mitigate climate change, and improving and sustaining water resources are pressing, and traditional gray infrastructure approaches are falling short. With proper attention and care, the services forests provide can increase over time. Because of this, they can provide a cost-effective way to address many city needs. Unlike traditional infrastructure, forests provide multiple services at once, and they accrue more value over time as trees mature and ecosystem services return. To make the most of the many benefits that forests can offer, the time to act is now.