Green Communities Center

Planning for Urban and Community Forestry

The American Planning Association, in close collaboration with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and American Forests (AF), and with the support of the U.S. Forest Service, has prepared a state-of-the-art best practices manual about how urban and community forestry can best be integrated into long-range and current municipal planning activities in the U.S.

The manual is in the form of a Planning Advisory Service (PAS) report, which was distributed to members of the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition and more than 1,000 planning agencies and consultants nationwide that are Planning Advisory Service subscribers.

Planning the Urban Forest

The culmination of a three-year research project, Planning the Urban Forest is a best practices manual about integrating urban forestry into municipal planning activities. It addresses the need for planners to adopt a green infrastructure approach and presents the technical means to incorporate trees into planning.

Forestry Case Studies

The partner organizations in the project collaborated for several months in an intensive case study selection process. They examined potential case studies and chose those they thought provided an exemplary nationwide cross-section for illustrating best practices in planning for urban and community forestry.

Training Workshop Development

Under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, APA's Green Communities Research Center has developed a full-day training workshop based on the PAS Report, Planning the Urban Forest. Aimed at practicing planners and allied professionals, the workshop focuses on developing core knowledge and skills for planners to integrate urban forestry priorities throughout the local planning process.

The first phase of this new effort took place beginning in the fall of 2009, culminating in a two-day symposium in Chicago discussing the proposed audience, content, and training methods for the new workshop. That phase concluded with a summary of the symposium findings and a management plan for developing and presenting the workshop. The Forest Service in April 2010 released funding to execute the second phase, which was completed a year later.

In this phase, Davey Tree Expert Company contributed the time of Davey Institute of Tree Sciences Director Robert J. Laverne. The second trainer working with APA is David C. Rouse, AICP, Managing Director of Research and Advisory Services at APA, who has done extensive work on the incorporation of green infrastructure and urban forestry into local comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, and special area plans. Both trainers will be available to present the workshop to willing host organizations, such as APA chapters, regional plan organizations, and educational institutions.

Learn more about hosting the workshop and the two trainers

As part of the new project, APA's Pennsylvania Chapter hosted a pilot workshop October 6, 2010, immediately following its annual conference in Lancaster. APA used evaluations from participants in the pilot workshop to refine the final product for a rollout version of the workshop at the 2011 APA National Planning Conference in Boston.

Urban Forestry Webcast

This one-hour webcast featured Jim Schwab, AICP, general editor of the PAS Report Planning the Urban Forest, and report contributor Cheryl Kollin, vice president of the Urban Ecosystem Center, American Forests. Access the archived urban forestry webinar at

The Problem of Declining Urban Forests

Urban forests provide enormous environmental benefits — among them improving air and water quality and slowing stormwater runoff. Yet, tree canopy in many U.S. metropolitan areas has declined significantly over the last few decades. The national organization American Forests has analyzed tree cover in more than a dozen metropolitan areas and documented changes. Over the last 15 years, naturally forested areas of the country east of the Mississippi River and in the Pacific Northwest have lost 25 percent of their canopy cover while impervious surfaces increased about 20 percent. Theses changes have ecological and economic impacts on air and water systems. Communities can offset the ecological impact of land development by utilizing the urban forest's natural capacity to mitigate environmental impacts.

The physical framework of a community is called its infrastructure. These utilitarian workhorses of a city can be divided into two types: green and gray. Green infrastructure includes areas covered with trees, shrubs, and grass; gray infrastructure refers to areas of buildings, roads, utilities, and parking lots. A community can measure the size, shape, and location of its green infrastructure and accurately calculate the public utility functions these areas perform.

For local public policymakers responsible for decisions affecting urbanization, the problem is not solely about getting the city or the developer to plant more trees. It is far more complex, involving every aspect of the urbanization process and balancing gray and green infrastructure. While both gray and green infrastructure are important in a city, communities that foster green infrastructure wherever possible are more livable, produce fewer pollutants, and are more cost-effective to operate. However, balancing the gray with the green can be a serious challenge.

Up until now, there has been no guidebook or manual that provides a clear path to such an understanding. This report addresses the need for planners to adopt a green infrastructure approach and the technical means to incorporate trees into planning. Moreover, this urban planning manual will help urban forestry professionals and advocates understand how they might best interface with the urban planning process to maximize green infrastructure and reduce gray infrastructure costs.

Urban planners, and those in allied professions with whom they often work, are uniquely positioned to influence public policy affecting how the built (gray infrastructure) and natural environments (green infrastructure) are planned and designed to work together.

Planners have an opportunity to advocate for maximizing green infrastructure in a number of ways. These strategic points of opportunity are best employed at two scales of land planning:

1. Adopt a Green Infrastructure Approach to Plan Making

  • Community Visioning, or the development of long-range goals and objectives for the community, which all too often do not include references to trees or green infrastructure.
  • Long-range plan-making, including preparation of:
    • the comprehensive plan (known in some states as the general plan or master plan);
    • sub-area plans, such as neighborhood plans, corridor plans, downtown or central business district plans, or redevelopment plans;
    • functional plans, such as plans for parks and open space, transportation plans (highway, transit, bikeway, and pedestrian plans), community services, and facilities plans.

2. Implement Best Management Practices that Promote Green Infrastructure

  • Preparation of ordinances, regulations, and incentives affecting the siting of buildings, sidewalks, curbs and gutters, roadways, drainage, landscaping, and other physical features, using zoning, subdivision control, and site planning requirements.
  • Review and approval of applications for development, which includes scrutiny of plans for:
    • residential subdivisions;
    • planned unit developments;
    • mixed-use developments;
    • redevelopment of blighted areas;
    • street, sidewalk, and bikeway improvements within public rights-of-way;
    • landscaping plans and plans for neighborhood parks and play lots;
    • community services and facilities plans;
    • urban design plans for streetscapes, plazas, and other public spaces.
  • Preparation of capital improvements programs, which involve the identification, costing, scheduling, and specification of major public capital investments, such as roads, parks, and municipal facilities.


The following goals were met by this project:

  • Provide the rationale and economics of adopting a green infrastructure approach to planning.
  • Provide guidance on the principles and practice of sound urban and community forestry to a broad set of professional and lay public officials at the local level.
  • Strengthen the relationship between urban planners, urban foresters, water quality and stormwater managers, and professional arboriculturists.
  • Provide an opportunity to exchange knowledge between urban and community forestry partners and urban planners, including allied professions such as landscape architecture and the environmental community.

Literature Review

The Planning for Urban and Community Forestry review contains book, article, and government document citations. The list may be considered both a literature review and a resource list for the project.

Texts were chosen for the review based on several criteria, including relevance to the topic of municipal planning, timeliness, and the ability to convey concepts accurately and concisely to an audience of planners.

The resource list is arranged under the following topics: Ecosystem Planning, which includes green infrastructure and biodiversity; Urban Forestry, general information; Watershed Planning; Municipal Planning, broken down further into Comprehensive Planning and Area Planning; Ordinances, Regulations, Incentives; Economic Benefits of Urban Forestry; Social Benefits of Urban Forestry; Environmental Benefits of Urban Forestry, which has the further sub-topics of Air Quality, Water Quality, Soil, and Urban Heat Island.

Each section is arranged first chronologically, then alphabetically by author. This allows the newest material to be viewed first.

Forestry Literature Review (pdf)