With So Much Vacant Land, Maybe It's Time for an Urban Forest

by Jim M.
(Marin County, California)

Vacant land where there used to be industry, foreclosed houses, or old city neighborhoods seems to be in big supply now. There's a lot of hand-wringing about what to do about those empty lots, light brownfields, and just malls and old movie theaters that can't be sustained.

I was thinking that maybe we should be trying to rebuild the urban forest idea. I think there is a forestry district in Chicago, and even at Chernobyl, they say that forests are taking over again. Those might be mutant trees, but that's another subject.

Plenty of cities have forestry departments, and right here on this website, I saw somewhere about Detroit having wildlife again. Trees can act as a strategy against global warming, and even if they don't prevent it, they can help with adaptation by creating a cooler micro-climate.

About every area has a few fast-growing trees that people are always using in their yards. I wonder if an urban forest with several different species of everything that grows fast in the area could be planted. Volunteers plant trees all the time, so maybe this could even be a volunteer project.

Usually the understory and the ground cover come along all by themselves if you plant enough trees, but volunteers would have to watch to see that invasive species don't come along and wipe out all the good plants.

Besides climate change advantages and reducing carbon footprint, it would give more urban children an opportunity to get familiar with forests and to understand that it's an entire big ecosystem with large and small plants and animals.

Trees and the other plants take up some of the pollution too.

I suppose some people would think the disadvantage of the urban forest would be that it would encourage deer and other "pests" such as rabbits or squirrels. The small animals are in our yards anyway, so I don't know what difference that would make really. Maybe more people would have to put up with deer eating their flowers, but they really need to figure out what the deer don't like to eat anyway.

The other disadvantage of an urban forest is that some places like California and Colorado already have too many wildfires. Obviously you have to plan the forest so that a fire there--a natural event, by the way--doesn't spread like crazy over to houses.

Keeping the understory well maintained is very helpful in preventing forest fires, by the way. Careless cigarette use should be monitored too.

Planning out some urban forests could help some cities look a lot better, work on their vacant land issue, and also function better ecologically. Birding would be better, and people that like butterflies would be delighted.

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