A tale of urban forest patch governance in four eastern US cities


Urban forests are important components of societal interactions with nature. We focused on urban forest patches, a distinct and underexplored subset of the urban forest that spans land uses and ownerships, and requires silvicultural practices to address their unique biophysical characteristics and management regimes. Our goal was to elucidate multi-scalar urban forest patch governance arrangements as they translated to on-the-ground management in four urban areas (Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore) within the eastern United States. A transdisciplinary knowledge co-production framework was used to guide identification of the prominent management challenge or dilemma motivating change to forest patch management in each location, and to describe the dynamic interplay of decision-making and governance processes across locations as they advanced toward desired forest conditions. A common management goal existed across all four locations: multi-age, structurally complex forests dominated by regionally native species. Ecological and social concerns affected by local context and city capacity served as starting points prompting management action and new collaborations. Disparate governance arrangements including top-down municipal resources, regional conservation facilitated by landowners, and grass-roots community-driven stewardship led to diverse support-building processes and innovative strategies that served as forces initiating and shaping new management actions. Science and iterative learning and adaptation influenced change in all locations, reinforcing new management arrangements and practices. Among the four study areas, the earliest management of urban forest patches started in the 1980 s, historically lacking embeddedness in urban forest management more broadly, and experiencing challenges with integration into existing governance infrastructure. Ultimately, new management and governance approaches to urban forest patches in all four study areas have evolved uniquely and organically, driven by place-based historical legacies and ongoing socio-ecological feedbacks. The generalization of findings for broader urban forest management guidelines, such as for trees and park, would lead to misguided outcomes.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Lindsay K. Campbell
Kristen L. King
Katherine J. Lautar
Lydia Scott, Morton Arboretum
Michelle L. Johnson
Mysha Clarke, Villanova University
Luke Rhodes, Fairmount Park Conservancy
Stephanie Pincetl, University of California, Los Angeles
Nancy F. Sonti
John Paul Schmit, National Park Service
Robert T. Fahey
Matthew E. Baker
Lindsay Darling, Morton Arboretum
Lea R. Johnson
Urban Forestry & Urban Greening