Innovating on urban forests for greener, more sustainable and resilient cities

Bringing the forest into the city purifies the air and facilitates the retention of suspended particles from road traffic. In addition, trees provide shade and cool the air through evapotranspiration. Image: Barcelona City Council, Environment Area.
Bringing the forest into the city purifies the air and facilitates the retention of suspended particles from road traffic. In addition, trees provide shade and cool the air through evapotranspiration. Image: Barcelona City Council, Environment Area.

By 2050, 84% of Europe’s population will live in urban areas and their growth can have a negative impact on the health and quality of life of people and the planet. This is the starting point of Uforest, an Erasmus+ project that aims to promote knowledge about so-called urban forests as a nature-based solution to help address these challenges.

The project aims to consolidate knowledge about urban forests and their management in the academic curriculum of university students and, at the same time, foster the capacity for innovation and joint entrepreneurship between public management and business.

The environmental services provided by urban forests include purifying the air and facilitating the retention of suspended particles from road traffic. In addition, trees contribute to adapting cities to climate change, because they generate shade and cool the environment thanks to their evapotranspiration, in an environment where the presence of asphalt and large buildings favours the heat island effect.

The urban forest is more than just an alternative. Trees in cities and their area of influence facilitate the capture of quality water, contribute to a more sustainable urban environment and help to create more resilient cities.

In this context in which, moreover, the world’s major cities aim to promote greenery, the urban forest is more than just an alternative. City trees help create more sustainable and resilient environments.

Taking the pulse of university

CREAF is involved in Uforest in the task of identifying and analysing the knowledge needs of university students in order to design specific courses. To this end, we have set up a Europe-wide questionnaire as a tool to find out what knowledge there is at university about urban forestry as a nature-based solution. We are also in charge of developing a database of stakeholders and key audiences that may be interested in this training, a responsibility we share with the European Forest Institute, ETIFOR and the Nature Based Solutions Institute. The CREAF research team is integrated by Corina Basnou, Josep Maria Espelta, Lluís Pesquer and Joan Pino.

Corina Basnou

“It is important to explain to university students what nature-based solutions are and specifically what urban forests are, so that they are aware of the professional opportunities they offer”.

CORINA BASNOU, researcher at CREAF.

“Uforest has a cross-cutting approach and aims to find synergies with urban planning, urbanism, architecture, communication and socio-economics, instead of limiting itself to a traditional vision linked to urban ecology and forest ecology”, explains CREAF researcher Corina Basnou. And she points out that “it is important to explain to university students what nature-based solutions are and in particular what urban forests are, so that they are aware of the professional opportunities they offer”. CREAF researcher and director Joan Pino highlights that the project “fills a knowledge gap in forest management in cities” and, at the same time, highlights the importance of providing tools and promoting entrepreneurship as part of Uforest’s commitments.

One of the challenges to be solvedis to give prominence to the new post-Covid19 space and the prominence that urban and peri-urban nature has acquired, as well as to the rediscovery of the interaction between people and nature.

The challenge: planning the sustainable city

A key challenge for Uforest is to promote collaboration between urban planning and forest science to innovate in public-private urban forestry. The initiative involves 7 countries (Canada, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Romania and Spain) who work together based on the conviction that the urban forest helps to plan for healthier and more pleasant environments.

A key challenge for Uforest is to promote collaboration between urban planning and forest sciences to innovate in public-private urban forestry.
A key challenge for Uforest is to promote collaboration between urban planning and forest sciences to innovate in public-private urban forestry. Image: Uforest.

3 major actions will be carried out over the 3 years of the project:

  • Facilitate the exchange and co-creation of knowledge between universities, companies and local authorities in 4 major areas that have often not found points of connection: urban landscape planning, forest ecology, socio-economics and information and communication technologies.
  • Develop and deliver a training course on urban forests for university students and planning professionals, with a cross-cutting and multidisciplinary approach.
  • Stimulate the entrepreneurial attitude of students, researchers and practitioners to provide the public and private sectors with innovative and cost-effective urban forest solutions.

A global dimension

In its approach, Uforest aims to provide results with a global dimension and a potential for transfer to national and international networks. To this end, it relies on European Forest Institute (EFI) -one of the main European research and networking institutions-, as well as with research centers, public entities, universities and consulting firms such as ERSAF (Italy), ETIFOR (a spin-off of the Padova University), Politecnico de Milano (Italy), Agresta (Spain), Universidad Transilvania de Braşov (Romania), Forest Design (Romania), Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Green City Watch (The Netherlands), Nature Based Solutions Institute (Canada), CREAF and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

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