The future of urban forestry with Ian Hanou of PlanIT Geo

April 5, 2023
Editor’s note: This article was written by Alec Sabatini and originally published on PlanIT Geo's blog.

Each episode of Season 5 of the Internet of Nature Podcast has a companion blog to elaborate on the topics discussed.

And away we go…

Season Five of the Internet of Nature Podcast, focused on the future of urban forestry, has officially begun. To kick it off and introduce the key topics covered this season, Dr. Nadina Galle was joined by Ian Hanou, PlanIT Geo Founder and CEO. This is also the start of our companion blog series, which will expand on discussion points from each episode.

One of the joys of this podcast partnership is the opportunity to broadcast urban forestry ideas in front of new ears. That also means we should first cover a fundamental question: What exactly is urban forestry?

What is Urban Forestry?

It’s a niche, yet deeply interconnected field. Part art, part science, and part technology. Ian’s answer cut to the heart of it:

Urban forestry is people forestry Just like rural forests can be managed for maximum lumber yields, urban forests are managed to maximize benefits for the people living nearby.

In many ways, it is a deeply satisfying industry to work in. It usually doesn’t take long in conversation with an urban forester to find a deep passion for trees and their ability to improve our built environment. There are also many inherent challenges to cultivating a healthy forest in the harsh, crowded urban environmen

Challenges of Urban Forestry

When discussing misconceptions about urban forestry, Ian’s first thought went toward awareness. The effort of planning and caring for trees is often underestimated, and the benefits being created by those trees are similarly unnoticed.

This industry has been working for decades to change that. The backbone of that campaign has been the quantification and monetization of ecosystem services. When tools like i-Tree arrived on the scene, urban forest managers were able to reference exact dollar amounts when advocating the value of trees. Quantification, supported by advancing technology, has continued to push urban forestry awareness to new heights. We’ve heard this echoed from TreePlotter™ software clients, such as Lexington, Kentucky.

Tree canopy cover and NatureScore™ by census tract.

“Tree canopy data helps us talk to council members. It’s been great to have these numbers and graphics, to show them, LOOK, your district really needs tree canopy, and here is WHERE and WHY.” – Heather Wilson, Program Manager Sr. – Urban Forestry, City of Lexington, Kentucky

Pace is another challenge. Normally, our decisions today have impacts the next day, next quarter, the next year. Seeing the benefits of successful urban forest management often takes decades. Though urban forestry professionals might not see the fruits of their labor during their career, or even lifetime, their work is connected to legacy like few others. They get to leave a lasting impact, and meaningfully improve their community for future generations. It’s not a bad way to make a living.

The State of Urban Forestry 2023

For those in the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act, passed last year, is a milestone moment for our industry. It set a new high watermark for urban forestry awareness and funding. This was something many organizations have been advocating for for years, so what tipped the scales?

It wasn’t energy savings or stormwater reduction. It was the social impacts of urban forest that grabbed the spotlight. Tools like American Forests Tree Equity Score helped conceptualize the impacts of unbalanced tree canopy better than ever before. Accessible tree canopy data has also made it clear these inequities are ubiquitous, tied to historic discriminatory policies, and still starkly correlated to race and income.

This idea struck a chord beyond our industry, with media attention helping broadcast the concept of tree equity to the general public. This also put pressure on government leadership, as they had to respond to the failing grades shown by these new metrics. The mindset is shifting and urban tree canopy is being seen as a right, not an optional amenity.

The culmination of this perspective shift is the Inflation Reduction Act, which is investing $1.5 billion into the US Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, representing a nearly five-fold increase in the program’s budget over the next nine years. With such a massive change, the state of urban forestry this year could be summed up as frenetic.

We are all scrambling to scale up, hire additional staff, and launch programs to turn this immense potential into real progress. We at PlanIT Geo, and so many of our peers, are working at lightning speed to add capacity to governments preparing to launch major greening initiatives, and crucially, track the outcomes of this unprecedented opportunity

What’s To Come This Season

On the way is a lineup of guests who are bringing a depth and breadth of expertise, passion, and innovation you won’t want to miss. Each week Nadina will sit down with an expert to unpack one of nine key topics facing the future of urban forestry. You can see a full guide to season five episodes here, but here is a taste of what’s to come:

Next Generation of tree professionals and The State of Urban Forestry in 2023

Inspiring the Next Generation

Episodes three and six look at the future generations who will play a role in urban forestry. Episode three, with “treefluencer” Tobin Mitnick, looks at new platforms for inspiring urban forest appreciation. Leslie Berckes (Society of Municipal Arborists) joins Nadina in episode 6 to talk about the skilled labor shortage, and solutions for expanding the workforce.

Private tree ordinances and the future of urban forestry

Private Tree Ordinances

Though we like to think of public land as the drivers of the urban forest, it can usually only influence 10-25% of the landscape. Episode four will decode the role private tree ordinances play as a lever for local governments to influence privately owned trees. We know this is a hot-button issue as PlanIT Geo’s webinar on this topic had to become a 2-parter to cover the avalanche of questions and comments.

Urban forest success stories

Urban Forest Success Stories

In episode two, Nadina will interview Dan Lambe (Arbor Day Foundation). They will be pulling out lessons from successful urban forests around the world and sketching out a blueprint for other cities to follow suit. Get ready for a trove of actionable examples.

Final Thoughts

Similar to the discussion coming in episode two, Nadina asked Ian for some inspiring urban forestry projects worth highlighting.

Washington, D.C.
Tracking multiple periods of canopy change in Washington, D.C.
Fort Worth, Texas
  • Another powerful pairing of city and nonprofit, the City of Fort Worth and the Texas Trees Foundation (TTF) partnered to develop a Fort Worth Urban Forest Master Plan.
  • This project had a unique start. A very pro-tree developer saw Fort Worth’s urban forest was moving in the wrong direction, and donated funds to initiate the project. That spark helped bring several other major corporate contributors to support the City and TTF’s efforts.
  • Urban forest master plans are not as common as urban forest management plans, but they are a terrific tool for “mainstreaming” urban forestry across silos, and building a broad, shared vision of what the urban forest could be.

Thanks for plugging into the Internet of Nature Podcast today. Tune in Wednesday, April 12th for Episode 2: What Can We Learn from the World’s Best Urban Forests, with Dan Lambe of the Arbor Day Foundation. If you would like to learn more about how the urban forest projects discussed above could work in your community, we’d love to hear from you.

Next post
Black arrow pointing to the right.
The world's best urban forests with Dan Lambe of ADF