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Editorial - Cities, trees and people

Given the monumental challenges facing today's world - widespread poverty, urban blight, illiteracy, tropical deforestation and the threat of nuclear war, to name only a few - it may seem quite irrelevant to devote an issue of Unasylva to the rather tame-sounding subject of urban forestry. To millions of homeless or starving or unemployed people in the urban centres of the developing world, how important can urban forestry really be?

Urban forestry, moreover, conjures up an image of tree-lined boulevards and vast, flower-filled parks with century-old trees in the more affluent city districts which would seem to serve only the upper strata of society.

In truth, urban forestry, as sometimes practiced, does tend to benefit the well-to-do at the expense of the underprivileged. But this does not necessarily have to be the case. In fact, urban forestry - like rural-oriented community forestry - offers an opportunity to bring the benefits of trees directly to the people. While these benefits may not be so familiar as - or may be quite different from - those in a rural setting, they nonetheless exist.

Cities can quite directly apply "conventional" urban forestry: the planting of trees along streets and boulevards, the creation of urban parks and forests, assistance to home gardens incorporating trees, etc. These activities can be carried out in ways which benefit all segments of society, including the poor. Poor people can appreciate the amenities offered by trees - shade, more attractive living spaces, reduction of noise, wind and pollution, even food production - as much as, if not more than, their affluent neighbours.

But the practice of urban forestry does not stop here. As a concept, urban forestry is a relatively new one, both for foresters and for the general public. It is also a concept still in evolution. With the appearance and development of a substantial core of professionals calling themselves "urban foresters" or "arborists", urban forestry has already, in some places, come to mean not only the placement of trees in selected sites but the full-scale planning for and management of all woody vegetation within a city's boundaries and on its periphery.

It is also quite plausible, as the lead article by R.R. Thaman in this issue of Unasylva demonstrates, to begin thinking of fully developed "urban agroforestry" programmes in many cities, and not just in wetter climates. Such programmes can make significant contributions to food production and income generation. Based on home gardens, such programmes, as Thaman shows, can also include fairly large-scale agroforestry on unoccupied urban land.

Some cities, such as Kampala and Debre Birhan - both of which are included among 13 city profiles written by Farhana Haque - have organized urban fuelwood plantations. Plantations such as these often include trees which have other uses besides fuelwood, such as fodder or pole production. Urban forestry, in fact, could make an important contribution to solving the fuelwood crisis, and more urban fuelwood tree planting programmes need to be developed. But the very shortage of fuelwood, as described by R.J. Olembo and P. de Rham in their article on urban forestry in two different worlds, can sometimes constitute a major impediment to development of urban forestry. People in great need of fuelwood may simply have no choice other than to chop down any tree within reach, a practice which makes the growing of trees for urban forestry very difficult.

The importance to urban forestry of two factors quite different from one another is shown in the article by Gary Moll and Deborah Gangloff on urban forestry in the United States, a country where some of the most extensive efforts in the discipline are now taking place.

One of these factors is the important role of people's participation, especially through non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs are already playing an active role in many American cities in initiating, implementing and maintaining urban forestry programmes. The other factor is high technology: software specifically written for urban foresters has now been developed which will permit them to inventory, monitor and evaluate urban forestry programmes right down to the individual tree.

FAO, because of its primary role in providing technical assistance for rural development in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, has been involved only indirectly in encouraging urban forestry. This does not mean, however, that its importance has gone unrecognized. FAO stands ready to provide assistance where it can to local governments, agencies, NGOs and other bodies developing urban forestry programmes. Such programmes can benefit all people - rich and poor alike - in virtually every city in the world.


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