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City Planning

“Planners who succeed tend to be opportunistic... It is, in a way, a creative awareness of the many linkages that exist among the variety of social, political, environmental, and economic issues that confront planners in their everyday work.”
Read more in the essay below.

By James C. Schwab, General Editor

Planning the Urban Forest: Ecology, Economy and Urban Development (excerpt)

The following essay is excerpted from the introduction to the American Planning Association’s report, Planning the Urban Forest: Ecology, Economy and Urban Development.Planning the Urban Forest

Planners who succeed tend to be opportunistic. Although many people associate that word with negative connotations, opportunism is a very positive trait in a public servant. It involves, at its best, noticing and seizing opportunities to advance a public goal by linking it with other goals and objectives driven by related considerations. It is, in a way, a creative awareness of the many linkages that exist among the variety of social, political, environmental, and economic issues that confront planners in their everyday work. Some of these involve external mandates from states or the federal government, some involve attaching policy objectives to new development or redevelopment, and some simply involve taking advantage of funding streams of any sort that may relate to the policy objective in question. In some cases, it may even be a crisis such as a natural disaster or the growing concern about climate change that triggers unexpected opportunities to advance urban forestry as a solution.


We call these “drivers” because they can “drive” an urban forestry program forward, either by responding to legal requirements or by generating new resources to support the program. Another appropriately descriptive term would be “stimulus.” Problems create opportunities for building critical support for urban forestry programs, and some of those drivers are:

Stormwater management

The federal Clean Water Act provides one of the clearest examples of an external mandate affecting local government, and urban forestry and other elements of green infrastructure can be effective tools in meeting its requirements. The act first targeted point source pollution, and later EPA established nonpoint-source pollution compliance standards in two phases: Phase I (for large communities) and Phase II (for smaller communities). The act’s provisions concerning nonpoint-source pollution,
along with the implementing regulations, have required communities to find ways to reduce stormwater runoff to combat the flow of pollutants it accumulates on its path to surface waters. Solutions or best management practices can be expensive. Green infrastructure can play a major role in reducing those costs, particularly when strategically located in stream buffers and floodplains, where it can help to minimize soil erosion.

Air quality and climate change

The provisions of the federal Clean Air Act dealing with listed criteria air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, are directed largely at metropolitan regions, in large part because of the enormous impact of transportation systems on air quality.

Habitat protection

The federal Endangered Species Act represents a significant opportunity for local and regional planners to incorporate an urban forestry program as part of a habitat conservation plan. Despite criticism of and opposition to the act from some affected landowners, the public continues to support the act against repeated efforts at repeal. How much and what types of habitat are protected in any case depends on the species involved, whose habitat needs may range from a few acres to hundreds or
even thousands of square miles. Often the habitat needs of larger non-bird species may involve some form of connectivity, or what are known as wildlife migration corridors, which for planning purposes tend to involve greenways and stream corridors. Whole books focus on the details of particular situations, which are too varied to address here. Among the case studies in Chapter 3, Salem, Oregon, cited the Endangered Species Act as a factor in its urban forestry program in combination with the Clean Water Act, because the salient issue was the protection of salmon habitat, the icon of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, this particular case tends also to illustrate the cross-cutting nature of many of these issues, such as the impact of water quality on prospects for species survival.

Habitat protection is not an issue limited to species protected by federal or even state law. Many compelling local issues can drive public support for green infrastructure and, more specifically, urban forestry, creating the opportunity for foresters and planners to collaborate on better management of greenbelts and forest remnants. As Agee (1997) notes, the perception of nature in urban areas is pretty broad, meaning that urban forest management might easily be dovetailed with sustainable species management in highly valued landscapes.

State and federal grants programs

Finally, state and federal grants can also be drivers for an urban forestry program. In this respect, the provisions of the 1990 federal farm bill that created the current urban and community forestry program also created a challenge cost-share grant program. NUCFAC, an advisory committee to the Secretary of Agriculture, provides criteria and recommendations for this grant program. These grants have provided numerous opportunities to jump-start local initiatives, including the master plan in Syracuse, New York. Among the case studies in Chapter 3, Olympia, Washington, cited a state grant in addition to federal funding as a stimulus to its program, particularly when the resulting study documented ongoing tree loss due to rapid development.

The Urban and Community Forestry Program also provides financial assistance and grants to local government, nonprofit organizations, community groups, educational institutions, and tribal governments through the individual state forestry agency urban and community forestry programs in 59 states and U.S. territories.

Other drivers

While the federal programs mandating clean air, clean water, and habitat protection are clearly potent drivers for urban forestry programs, there are more given within our 13 case studies. Among them:

  • brownfields cleanup
  • smart growth concerns
  • state-level forest conservation
  • natural disasters
  • concerns about tree diseases and pests
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