These tiny urban forests could boost cities’ biodiversity, help fight climate change

Urban forests, as small as tennis courts, are planted using a method invented by a Japanese botanist in the 1970s.
Urban Forest

When we think of forests, we usually imagine a bunch of trees spread across a big chunk of land. But, there is also an alternative that comes in the form of urban forests that can thrive on space as big (or that’s as small) as a tennis court.

And unsurprisingly such projects have started springing up on patches of land in urban areas around the world, often planted by local community groups using a method inspired by Japanese temples.

The best part is that the execution of such a project doesn’t require a lot of resources except for a free site and a few years for the trees to grow.

The main idea is to use a variety of native seedlings and plant them densely, from where nature will do it all by itself with little to no human intervention.

That intervention, however, may be required during droughts and other extreme weather conditions, but then again — these are extremes rather than the norm.

According to the method’s proponents, the end result is a complex ecosystem perfectly suited to local conditions that improve biodiversity, grow quickly and absorb more CO2.

Said method is based on the work of Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki; he found that protected areas around temples, shrines and cemeteries in Japan contained a huge variety of native vegetation that co-existed to produce resilient and diverse ecosystems. This was in sharp contrast to the conifer forests, where non-indigenous trees are grown for timber. What’s more, these native forests act as oases for biodiversity, supporting up to 20 times as many species as non-native, managed forests.

Miyawaki’s work, now known as the Miyawaki method, presumes prioritizing the natural development of forests using native species. Miyawaki forests can grow into mature ecosystems in just 20 years, which is super fast considering that it takes 200 years for a forest to regenerate on its own.

These native forests also get to benefit from local pollinators such as butterflies and bees, beetles, snails and amphibians — all of which thrive with a greater diversity of food and shelter.

Beyond biodiversity, these small forests are said to improve people’s mental health, reduce the harmful effects of air pollution, and even counter the phenomenon of heat islands in cities.

As we’re writing this, there are numerous Miyawaki forest projects around the world, including Urban Forests in Belgium and France, Tiny Forest in the Netherlands, as well as a few initiatives in India and the Amazon.

While they are not the silver bullet, Miyawaki forests can play an important part in solving the climate change problem — all while improving the environment for everyone.

Takeaway

The Miyawaki method presumes prioritizing the natural development of forests using native species. These Miyawaki forests can grow into mature ecosystems in just 20 years, which is super fast considering that it takes 200 years for a forest to regenerate on its own. As such, they improve local biodiversity, while also providing benefits to people's mental health, reduce the harmful effects of air pollution, and even counter the phenomenon of heat islands in cities.

At the moment, there are numerous Miyawaki forest projects around the world, including Urban Forests in Belgium and France, Tiny Forest in the Netherlands, as well as a few initiatives in India and the Amazon.
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Action point

FOR PUBLIC OFFICIALS:
If your city has a spare piece of land — or can procure it affordably — you could consider leading (proposing) an initiative to turn that piece of land into an urban forest. This is hardly something you will finish during your tenure, but it could help make a lasting impact in your community. And if you market the initiative properly, you could even advance in your career. And win some votes, if you're an elected official. After all, who doesn't want his/her city to be greener?

FOR BUSINESSES:
Just because this looks like a non-profit initiative that doesn't mean you couldn't make money out of it. Perhaps you (your company) could organize a marketing campaign for the urban forest project, perhaps you could sell the seeds to the city, or you may be able to score the maintenance contract. From what we can tell, such a contract won't make you rich, but it won't require much effort either... And could add some green credentials to your brand.