An attempt is made throughout this document to indicate the particular benefits (and disadvantages) of urban trees to people living in Third World towns and cities, rather than reviewing the subject in abstract terms. Unfortunately, as already noted, the actual views of urban dwellers are rarely documented. A number of social/cultural themes running through the discussion to date are highlighted in this section.
There has been a marked conceptual development over the last decade or so in participatory forest management in developing countries. It may be argued that in this, countries such as India and Nepal are far ahead of many countries in the North, where (in some cases) community forests are relatively new. It is somewhat ironic that the participatory approach to rural forestry does not appear to have spread to the management of trees on ‘public’ land in urban areas, whereas in the North, the need to involve local residents in urban forestry is well-recognized. An illustration of this is provided by a statement of one urban forester working in the UK that,
“Combining the interests and concerns of all sections of the urban community into an overall strategy and management plan for the urban forest is essential.” (Johnston, 1992:2)
This is just as true, if not more so (given the greater potential for material production), in developing countries.
From the choice of tree species to actual planting, tending and (where appropriate) harvesting of tree products, urban dwellers should be able, and actively encouraged, to participate in decision-making and implementation as far as possible. This does not mean that urban dwellers should be expected to do all the physical labour of tree establishment and management themselves (sometimes this may be best left to professionals; in other cases local residents may wish to do the work themselves). The essence of participation is that people's needs, opinions and preferences should be incorporated into the planning and management process. How this is organized will depend upon local circumstances. In general, it is likely to be easier in residential areas where there is already a strong sense of community, but wherever it is adopted, the participatory process is unlikely to be simple. As indicated in section two (and elsewhere), urban “communities” are invariably made up of a variety of people of diverse income groups, ethnic origins, etc. Conflicts may exist between different groups, while individuals vary in the readiness with which they express their views and indeed their interest in trees. The urban forester must be aware of these differences, and try to take them into consideration to the extent that this is feasible. A recent paper on the community forestry programme in the city of Baltimore, USA gives an insight into how, in this particular programme, a participatory approach was implemented (Burch and Grove, 1993). The authors stress the need for a balance between community discussions and professional action, with the former guiding, but not completely dictating, the latter.
In some cases local participation may be assisted through tree warden or similar schemes, whereby individuals volunteer to take responsibility for the care of trees planted in their area. Such a scheme is reported to operate successfully in Bangalore, India (Shyam Sunder, 1985), while the planting of trees under a “godparents of trees” programme, in which children effectively adopt a tree, has been popular in Guatemala City (Pokorny de Marcet, 1992). In commercial areas, shopkeepers may be encouraged to ensure that nearby trees are well tended. For example, it is reported that in Longyan, South China,
“…some street trees are looked after by the adjacent shopkeeper or inhabitant who will for a fee give routine attention and keep vigilance on wilful or inadvertent damages.” Jim (1991:156).
Whether paying people to manage trees is necessary, or indeed desirable, is debatable. The authors of the study conducted on human activities associated with Calcutta street trees which is summarised in box 4.4 noted that,
“We observed that wherever there were some shops or other establishments along the sides of the road the trees came up very well, while in their absence the number of trees was rather low. In other words, wherever the density was high it was the local people who protected and nourished the trees.” Malhotra and Vijaykumar (nd:286)
The participation of Third World urban dwellers in urban forestry will almost certainly entail a major revision in management objectives for trees cultivated on ‘public’ land, beyond the usual environmental considerations to allow also for greater production possibilities.
Within the immediate living environment of poor people in Third World towns and cities, there may be very little opportunity for tree cultivation. This is probably particularly true in old, high-density residential areas within the urban centre. However, the preceding discussion has shown that in some Third World towns/cities, at least, urban trees already provide poor people with shade, recreation, fuel and food, among other benefits. Fuelwood collection from peri-urban areas may also be an important source of cash income. In Delhi, poor people gain income from the harvesting and sale of a number of products from trees growing on land owned by the Municipal Corporation. These include jamun (Syzigium spp) and kapok; the Corporation auctions harvesting rights every year to collectors who camp under the trees (Campbell, pers. comm). The same informant notes that,
“Urban forests in India also have other important functions - including their role as a place for defecation. Conflicts over the right to defecate in parks and open spaces are increasing.”
Urban forestry projects to date have certainly not always been sensitive to the needs of the poor. An example is provided by Guatemala City, where it is recorded that,
“Because squatters were occupying vacant land wherever available, we had to quickly plant trees to show that vacant sites were occupied…. Often, we had to remove small business that squatted on these public lands and fence off the areas so that the trees could grow....we had to be aggressive in delineating these lands for the future.” (Pokorny de Marcet, 1992:221).
Overall, little appears to be is known about the current use of urban trees, or their value to, the urban poor. The ways in which tree cultivation and management in Third World towns and cities can be implemented to the greater benefit of such people is a matter for greater future attention.
It was noted in section two that women are now far more numerous (in percentage as well as overall terms) in Third World towns and cities than they were several decades ago. Whether they are likely to have particular interest in tree cultivation and management is uncertain, but a number of studies of urban agriculture have shown that the main participants are women (Niñez, 1985; Streiffler, 1987). It was also shown in Lima, Peru that the purpose of agricultural plots is often determined by the gender of the cultivator, with men being more interested in cash production (such as nurseries or growing fruit for cash), while women are more interested in subsistence production (Niñez, 1985). This probably varies in different cultures; in West Africa, women are generally the main traders of produce from homegardens (Diarra, 1975).
The extent to which the cultivation and management of urban trees is dictated by cultural norms or religious values undoubtedly varies in different countries. For example, one Kenyan writer has commented that,
“Many traditional beliefs do not hold strong in urban settings with mixed populations. This is due to the fact that Kenyans maintain their rural homes as links to their traditional cultures and do not take these values to urban centres where they keep only temporary homes.” (Onganga, 1992:218).
However, as noted in section 4.2, trees in urban landscapes can be of high cultural significance, and cultural or religious beliefs may strongly influence their management. In Calcutta, Malhotra and Vijayakumar (nd:286) noted that if a street tree was worshipped, its chances of survival were “almost 100 per cent”.
Technical expertise and awareness of the value of trees
Beyond the comment of Hill (1992) that municipal workers in Quito, Ecuador seemed to be knowledgeable about arboricultural practices, a review of available literature was not forthcoming with regard to urban dwellers' technical expertise in tree management. It should not be assumed from the lack of documentation that expertise is necessarily lacking. The assumption that local people are ignorant about the value of trees and need education on the subject is a costly mistake that was made in the case of rural development forestry in Nepal and elsewhere. In the case of urban forestry, the only information available, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, indicates that at least there, education on the value of trees was not needed (see box 4.1). Before considering any education programme for urban dwellers, it would be wise to establish what they do and do not already know.
‘Fashions’ in tree cultivation
It appears that tree cultivation in urban areas may be subject to what amounts to prevailing ‘fashions’, influencing both whether anything is planted at all, and what is planted. The ‘fashion’ may be dictated by reasons outside the influence of local people, such as advances in professional knowledge or seedling availability, or a change in government policy. It may also be the product of more nebulous changes in social attitudes, and reflect local people's wishes. For example, Cline-Cole (1990) notes that in the case of fuelwood lots in Africa, there was a historical succession in the most commonly planted (always exotic) tree species from Cassia siamea to Gmelina arborea to Eucalyptus spp. The reason in this case was largely technical. In China, extensive urban tree planting has been actively encouraged by the government for the last twenty years or so. According to Jim (1991:159), in Longyan township in South China, “the over-emphasis on a few favoured species and the changing fads in species selection are familiar phenomena shared by other townships.”
A study of street trees in Bangalore probably reflects changing ‘fashions’ in local people's opinions about trees. Gadgil and Parthasarathy (1977:64) found that,
“While older and more affluent localities show a preference for the ornamental trees, the newer affluent localities seem to want no trees at all inside the houseyards…. Trees are considered a nuisance because they shed leaves, flowers and fruit to make the yards dirty.”
In the UK and much of Europe, ‘fashions’ in urban tree planting have revolved around the indigenous versus exotic species debate - an issue that is also being voiced now in developing countries. To what extent this debate has been orchestrated by professional urban foresters, and to what extent it is a reflection of the views of urban residents is uncertain. In much of Europe, there was a rejection of exotic species in favour of indigenous ones in plantings of the 1970s and early 1980s. This has now shifted to a current favouring of mixed plantings of both exotics and natives, selected to give individual character to a particular location (Denne and Hill, pers. comm).