Indeed, as W H Auden reminded us, ‘A culture is no better than its woods’. Thus trees have been a vital component of our cultural relationships with our landscapes since time began. There are those who believe however that, as Europe became a collection of urban communities – the UK officially becoming urban in 1851 - these links with trees became out-dated, as other issues became more pressing. They couldn’t be more wrong.
This lecture suggests that the concept of ‘urban forestry’ was born in the UK by the Quaker Industrialists of the Industrial Revolution, traces how the concept evolved, initially through the Garden City Movement, and illustrates how subsequently urban forestry has been developing a cannon of research – work that Leeds Beckett has been involved with – and how the concept has been making appreciable progress up the political agenda in Europe over recent years. This has been assisted by the fact that it has begun to develop an identifiable ‘European’ style, as opposed to practicing a version of the North American approach developed in the 1960’s.
This is significant, as Europe is in the process of undergoing profound change, change that originally was concerned with the unification of the continent and thus was essentially economically driven, but which now increasingly considers matters as diverse as the suspension of national borders and easier pan-continental travel. From a continent of competing countries, we are becoming a continent of competing regions and cities. One region’s gain can be another city’s loss and this is increasingly creating urban instability. This phenomenon is also mirrored in other parts of the developing world.
Although many European cities have reached the limits of conventional growth, they continue to expand. Thus the rules of the game are changing and this lecture will suggest that the conventional approaches to regulating urbanization are failing, as they are all too often seen as formulaic and unsustainable and thus are unable to attune to the increasingly unstable urban conditions. This lecture further suggests that, unlike the conventional approaches to urbanism, urban forestry is able to deal with these unstable conditions because it continually adapts and transforms and can accommodate a myriad of forces and initiatives and, as a result, move beyond the ‘green cosmetic’ to become an integral part of a new, more sustainable European urbanism.
The lecture illustrates with examples from my own urban forestry journey of exploration and research, and concludes with the suggestion that urban forestry is emerging as the prime catalyst for sustainable urbanism in Europe, on the basis that true wealth can only really be measured in terms of the well-being of people and the cultural sustainability of their environment.