Scroll to top


Discover how forests sustain cities

Trees and forests are invaluable to cities and their residents. They provide multiple health benefits, sustain water resources, help combat climate change and protect global biodiversity. Trees and natural areas within cities (our “inner forests”) clean the air, offset heat islands, lower energy bills, support human health and provide habitat for wildlife. Trees in watersheds surrounding cities (“nearby forests”) contribute to cleaner air and drinking water, reduce flooding and offer an escape from hectic urban life. “Faraway forests” — particularly in the tropics — sequester large amounts of carbon, generate rain for the world’s farm belts, provide a wealth of useful products and host the majority of the world’s land-based biodiversity.


Many cities host extensive urban forests, offering a wealth of benefits to residents. Our founding cities contain some of the world’s most iconic city forests, from the woodlands of New York’s Central Park to the shady trees of Uhuru Park in Nairobi. These “inner forests” include street trees, wooded parklands and natural areas within the boundaries of the city. They provide cost-effective solutions to city infrastructure challenges, such as storm water treatment, flood control, traffic calming and cooling buildings.

Cities4Forests aims to help cities incorporate inner forests into planning strategies, with a particular emphasis on helping cities increase urban forest cover, implement natural infrastructure solutions to solve city challenges, and promote access to forests and nature while maintaining these ecosystems. We provide our member cities with technical assistance and access to programs for citizen engagement. We also work to build the economic argument for using forests and trees to mitigate climate change, and how to best manage and allocate forests to achieve specific goals, for example, through a planning guide and “benefits calculator” for air quality, stormwater management and other urban development goals.

Underpinning the growth of some of the world’s great cities are adjacent forests that filter water, provide timber and contribute to urban quality of life. “Nearby forests” support cleaner air and drinking water, reduce flooding and provide access to wildlife and recreation for many urban residents. But many of these forests are threatened by rapid urbanization.

Cities4Forests helps cities take an integrated approach to nearby forests, emphasizing conserving and restoring natural forests and native biodiversity in strategic areas. Our network includes world-renowned examples of nearby forest partnerships, including São Paulo’s relationship with the Cantareira Water Supply System, and Brussels with the Sonian Forest. Quito works with local communities in the hills surrounding the city, to protect and restore forests in watersheds and thus provide essential city services (clean and reliable water supply) in a cost-effective way.  

Cities4Forests helps cities to raise awareness of the benefits of nearby forests, and to promote access to forests and nature for eco-tourism and healthy escapes from city life. We work with cities to develop economic analyses on investment in forests to secure drinking water, mitigate flood risk and create recreation opportunities. We provide technical assistance, case examples, and peer-to-peer visits for source-water protection programs and guidance to access funds to support these programs.

Forests located far from major cities include some of the most essential ecoystems for supporting life on earth: from the lush Amazon rainforest to the rhododendron forests in Nepal to the jungle (or rainforest) of the Congo Basin to Australia’s Daintree rainforest. “Faraway forests” sequester largest amounts of carbon; regulate the global water cycle and generate rain for the world’s farms; provide a wealth of useful products including wood, food and medicine; and host the vast majority of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. These functions are essential for the survival of humans and thousands of other species on our planet. But urban populations are disconnected to these forests, and often unaware of their benefits. Forests once covered over 50% of the world’s land area. Today, they cover about 30%, and many remaining forests have lost species and biodiversity.

Our forests are a precious resource whose value must be communicated to cities. Cities4Forests emphasizes city-forest partnerships with biodiverse and carbon-rich  tropical and subtropical forests, which are being cleared at much greater rates than other forests. And consumption in cities is largely responsible: nearly 80% of global deforestation is driven by agriculture with the production of beef, soy and palm oil posing major threats to tropical forests. Mining and fossil fuel extraction also drive  deforestation and pollute forest habitat.

Cities4Forests helps cities connect with faraway forests through meaningful partnerships, procurement strategies and public awareness campaigns. Our “partner forest” toolkit and strategy includes helping cities source sustainable forest products, foster student exchange and ecotourism programs and otherwise connect with a forest of cultural and ecological significance.

We also provide guidance on certified sustainable wood procurement for city infrastructure; assistance helping cities meet their climate commitments via sourcing sustainably-certified, forest-based carbon credits or other tactics; and broad urban-oriented communication campaigns to bring these forests into the hearts and minds of city residents.



Terra Virsilas

Inner Forests lead

Todd Gartner

Nearby Forests lead

Sarah Wilson

Faraway Forests lead