Milan's Urban Forestry and Greening Project

The city has an ambitious goal to plant 3 million trees by 2030.

tree planting in Milan
A gardener plants a young hornbeam tree in Milan in May 2021, as part of its ForestaMi project.

Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

An ambitious urban forestry and greening project in Milan is garnering positive attention from around the world. Lauded for its ambition and creativity, the ForestaMi project aims to plant three million new trees in the metropolitan area by 2030—one tree for each of the area's citizens.

Of course, many cities and jurisdictions around the world are focused on tree planting. Seoul, Singapore, and Bangkok have built green corridors, and in Europe, three "Tree Cities of the World"— Ljubljana, Barcelona, and Brussels—have all demonstrated a commitment to urban trees. Milan's project is not unique, but it does show that change is possible even in one of the cities most affected by air pollution. 

This project is not simply planting about as many trees as possible. It is also evaluating the distinct vulnerabilities of the territory and seeking to understand the areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate crisis. The project exemplifies the need to think holistically about tree planting schemes, taking local environments and location-specific data into account.

Giorgio Vacchiano, a researcher in Forest Management and Planning at the University of Milan, said, "Before planting trees, it’s important to identify which areas are most sensitive to the 'heat island' effect, which are the most sensitive to floods, and which are the ideal places to create ecological corridors that connect already existing forests."

Milan's Challenges

Vacchiano spoke of the unique challenges faced by the Po Valley, where the natural landscape favors the accumulation and persistence of fine dust and pollutants. 

By 2017, Italy had the highest percentage of car ownership in Europe, with 62.4 cars per 100 inhabitants. A study in 2018 by the World Health Organization found that Milan had the second highest levels of atmospheric pollution among all European cities, after only Turin. Milan was found to have an average of 37μg (micrograms) of PM10 particulate per meter squared, which is well above the recommended maximum rate of 20μg required to safeguard human health. 

A recent research study conducted by the University of Milan found, shockingly, that around 1,500 people in Milan die each year due to prolonged exposure to NO2. 

The ForestaMi project is one step being taken to tackle atmospheric pollution, improve air quality, improve the health and wellbeing of city residents, sequester carbon, and produce shade to mitigate rising temperatures. 

The Path to 3 Million Trees

This project began with research carried out by the Polytechnic University of Milan. The university pinpointed the areas of the city where trees could be planted, a calculation was made, and a challenge was launched. The city was on its way to planting one tree for each one of its residents by 2030. The project was launched by Milanese architect Stefano Boeri, who is known globally for his works connecting cities and the natural world

Thus far, only one-tenth of these three million trees have been planted. Fabio Terragni, a member of the project's scientific committee, commented, "We have to accelerate, but we are only at the beginning of our journey. If we want to reach our goal, we need to plant 400-500 thousand new trees each year."

In order to meet its goal of three million trees by 2030, the ForestaMi project accepts both public and private contributions. Authorities, institutions, organizations, businesses, and individuals can all donate to the project, or give a tree as a gift. 

"Citizen participation is key for us." said Terragni. "Last October we started collecting private contributions from businesses and small citizens. To date we have raised over 1 million Euros and we plan to collect another million by the end of 2021."

Milan is just starting down the path to three million trees; but like so many other urban forestation projects around the globe, this beginning is encouraging—offering hope for greener, healthier, and more sustainable cities. 

According to the UN, cities will accommodate 68% of the world's population by 2050. Greening initiatives are therefore imperative for the future of the majority of global humanity. Milan now joins the growing numbers of cities creating urban forests for climate crisis mitigation and adaptation, and it will surely not be the last.