Importance of Urban Forests to City Life

urban forests

The World Environment Day this year witnessed the promotion of the Nagar Van (Urban Forestry) Scheme. The Hon’ble Environment Minister Shri Prakash Javadekar announced this Scheme with the aim of developing 200 urban forests across urban India in the next five years. This will be implemented with people’s participation and collaboration between forest departments, local governments, NGO and corporate.

What is also interesting to note is that under a School Nursery Scheme, it has been proposed to create plant nurseries in schools involving students. Medicinal plants will also be grown in these school nurseries and will later be available for sale.

Cities like, Chandigarh, Gandhinagar, Bangalore, Delhi and many more are already doing a lot in increasing their green cover. The land use pattern and environmental changes of urban areas makes it difficult to be green. Creating forests and maintaining natural ecosystems in cities is not easy due to many factors. These include lack of availability of space, fragmented ecosystems and rapid land-use conversions.

There is thus a need to design infrastructures in parallel with natural setting, linking one to another. This will not only help the urban biodiversity, but it will also play a critical role in maintaining human health and well-being. For example, conserving a floodplain area will lead to recharging of wetlands, provide habitat for water birds, conserve local plant species, help in the absorption of excess flood water; all of which will only help enhance human well-being.

Urban forests are the green lungs of any city. They provide multiple ecosystem services; these forests are not only beautiful and functional but also provides several physical, emotional, psychological benefits to the residents. Some of these benefits are discussed below.

Human Health Benefits

  • Attention restoration: According to the theory of S. Kaplan, natural environments and vegetation can assist in the functioning of human attention. Kaplan says that mere looking at nature enhances long periods of direct attention in humans. Several other studies have shown that people who spend even little time of their day in parks or if they have green pockets near to their workplace are less frustrated, more patient and more enthusiastic towards their work. It also helps in improving attention deficit disorder (ADD) in children.
  • Physical health benefits: According to Kathleen Wolf at the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington, trees and parks can help urban dwellers to make better, more active choices about their routine activities. More people are encouraged to walk in their neighborhoods everyday which keeps them healthy and  fit. Also, trees regulate heat and absorb noise and other air pollutants thereby protecting people from heat strokes and several other respiratory diseases.
  • More green spaces, more sleep: According to recent researches, people who live in areas surrounded by green cover are likely to get more sound sleep as compared to others. This is because of the cooling effect provided by the trees in their vicinity, less noise and better air quality.

Environmental Benefits

  • Green infrastructures: Urban forests are like sponges, holding water during the flood time and helping in recharging of ground water by reducing surface runoff. They also act as pollutant filtration by trapping dust, dirt and smoke on their leaves and bark.
  • Moderating the impact of air pollutants: Trees growing around the cities helps in mitigating the harmful impacts of air pollutants on humans, plants and animals. They also helps in improving air quality by absorbing excess carbon from the atmosphere, particulate matter and other harmful gases. Trees in cities can help cool the air between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, thus reducing the urban heat island effect.
  • Provide habitat, food and protection to plants and animals: Urban forests are homes to many birds, insects, animals and several microorganisms which provide essential ecosystem services. These forests provide food to several birds, animals and insects which later becomes important components in the food web. These tiny insects and birds  helps in pollination, production of varieties of flowers and fruits thereby increasing the biodiversity of that area.
  • Provides large amount of oxygen: Trees of urban forests release large amount of oxygen which is available free of cost to animals, humans and for other activities. It is estimated that a large tree can meet the daily oxygen requirements for four people.

Economic Benefits

  • Property value improvement: It has been seen that there is a rise in property value when a house is surrounded by green areas or urban forests. As we know, trees helps in reducing temperatures, provide shade and aesthetic value and help create a pollution free environment. More and more people want to live near parks or green spaces to enjoy these benefits.
  • Source of employment for many people: As more and more urban forests are setting up, this is giving opportunities for people to invest in them. The urban forest of Pune-Wajre is the best example of a public- private partnership program. Companies are using their CSR funds, to support NGOs, schools, local governments and residents for setting up or maintain parks and urban forests. Many people are earning their wages from these activities. Some local governments are also putting minimally priced tickets for visitors which is becoming a source of revenue.

As more people are involved in outdoor activities because of urban forests, it has left a positive impact on their health. Diseases like high blood pressure, stress, anxiety, diabetes, obesity etc. will certainly reduce when people adopt a healthy routine for themselves. This will also reduce the burdens on the health care system and help save money for the residents by reducing their cost of hospital visits and medical bills.

Preeti Vohra

Preeti Vohra holds a master's degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Delhi and loves to explore nature and impart environmental education.

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