This Program Recognizes Cities That Prioritize Their Trees

A 'Tree Cities of the World' designation set a high bar for urban forest canopies.

Cherry Street, Toronto
Cherry Street in Toronto, Ontario, which recently was recognized for a second year on the 'Tree Cities of the World' list.

Tree Cities of the World

On a site named Treehugger, we can't help but get excited about all things tree-related. One thing that we're loving right now is Tree Cities of the World, an annual recognition program for cities "seeking excellence in urban forest practices and management." The program, created in 2018, is a partnership between the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and the Arbor Day Foundation.

This program encourages cities to educate residents and motivate local governments to protect, care for, and expand their urban forests, as these provide so many benefits. Trees yield three to five times their cost in overall benefits to a city, in the form of stormwater management, erosion control, and reduced energy costs. 

A 2018 study by the US Forest Service's Northern Research Station found the country's urban forest canopies, which are home to some 5.5 billion trees, "provide roughly $18 billion in annual benefits to society through the removal of pollution from the air ($5.4 billion), carbon sequestration ($4.8 billion), reduced emissions ($2.7 billion) and improved energy efficiency in buildings ($5.4 billion)." 

Trees boost property values up to 20% if placed strategically, and buildings in wooded areas rent more quickly, with tenants staying longer on average. One Treehugger writer described trees as "air-scrubbing, temperature-cooling, mood-improving, flood-mitigating machines." Their presence boosts pride in one's hometown, promotes connections between neighbors, reduces stress, and even improves children's academic performance

Don Valley, Toronto
A view of Toronto's Don Valley. Tree Cities of the World / Matt Forsythe

Program manager Alana Tucker tells Treehugger the first group of cities in the program was recognized in 2019. "There are now 120 cities from 23 countries recognized globally as Tree Cities of the World. Cities must reapply for annual recognition [and meet] 5 core standards of urban forest management for recognition," says Tucker.

These core standards include:

  • Establishing Responsibility, with a written statement that delegates tree care to a designated Tree Board
  • Setting the Rules, with an official policy that sets out requirements and best practices for tree care and worker safety
  • Knowing What You Have, using an updated city-wide inventory of all trees
  • Allocating Resources in the form of a dedicated annual budget
  • Celebrating Achievements with an annual "celebration of trees" that raises awareness among residents of their importance. (A tree party!)

Canada is one country that saw five more cities join the Tree Cities of the World list in 2020, increasing its total to 15. This is "despite the hardships that local governments faced through the COVID-19 pandemic," says Tucker. While the pandemic did pose significant challenges, it also highlighted the importance of green spaces in urban areas and just how much people rely on them for mental wellbeing, especially when other social outlets are unavailable.

tree maintenance in Victoria, BC
Urban tree maintenance in Victoria, BC. Tree Cities of the World

As Tree Cities of the World stated in a press release about the latest Canadian additions to the list, its goal is to create more green spaces by recognizing those cities that do it well. This is something worth celebrating, since "planting more trees is the quickest and easiest way to improve a city's tree canopy and cover and invest in a brighter future." 

If you'd like your own city to apply for Tree City of the World designation, applications open at the beginning of July each year.

View Article Sources
  1. "Benefits of Recognition." Tree Cities of the World.

  2. Kondo, Michelle C., et al. "Health Impact Assessment of Philadelphia's 2025 Tree Canopy Cover Goals." The Lancet Planetary Health, vol. 4, no. 4, 2020, pp. e149-e157., doi:10.1016/s2542-5196(20)30058-9