Four Myths about Urban Forests and Greening Cities II

Myth 2:  Only Big Cities Can Make it Happen

Just not so.  And there are dozens of urban forestry and green infrastructure planners who’ll show you how small cities and towns have greened their communities — as well, or even better, than their metro-sized neighbors. Three approaches seem to work best.

Comprehensive Regional Planning

Enable Municipal Planning.  The Wasatch Front Regional Council centers in Salt Lake City, but extends its reach through the entire valley — encompassing communities large and small.  Recognizing that each community faces special challenges, the Wasatch Choice 2040 initiative offers a framework for local planning.  Backed by central data resources, these so-called envisioning centers enable residents to undertake alternative scenario planning.  Each community assesses its own needs and expectations, then crafts a plan to meet them.
Create Consensus Plan.  The Mid-America Regional Council spans two states, nine counties and 119 municipalities.  Their MetroGreen Initiative lays out a visionary, large-scale system of interconnected landscape corridors that will span 1,144 miles, link city to countryside, suburb to urban center, and connect residents to nature.  Created in partnership with its members, MetroGreen offers both a blueprint and tools for municipalities to achieve its goals.

On Your Own

One of the most impressive small-community plans was developed by the town of Greensburg, Kansas.  Cited by planners and sustainability experts worldwide, this plan grew out of the aftermath of a tornado that virtually destroyed this town of fewer than 2,000 residents.  Many participated in formulating objectives for the plan and its components — including rebuilding parks and other green assets.  Few cities of any size have produced, much less implemented a plan of this magnitude.

Corning, New York — suffering from disinvestment in its Main Street business district — undertook a plan to revitalize its downtown.  The plan supports local businesses, green streetscapes and well-placed parks. Commentator Kaid Benfield has studied the factors that make the Corning plan a model for other small communities.

Green infrastructure and urban forestry planning is never a simple endeavor; and there’s no “one-size-fits-all” toolkit that can be plugged in.  But there’s much to learn from success stories, as well as cases where outcomes didn’t quite meet expectations.  The International City Management Association has published a report:  Defying the Odds: Sustainability in Small and Rural Places.  It’s worth a read.