Discover how forests sustain cities

Trees and forests are essential to cities and their residents. Forests provide multiple health benefits, regulate water resources, help combat climate change, and protect global biodiversity. Trees and natural areas within cities (“inner forests”) clean the air, reduce urban heat islands, reduce 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 city residents an escape from hectic urban life. “Faraway forests” — particularly in the tropics — sequester large amounts of carbon, regulate the water cycle, generate rain for the world’s farm belts, provide a wealth of natural resources, and host the majority of the world’s land-based biodiversity.


Many cities host extensive urban forests, providing great value to residents of these cities. Our founding cities contain some of the world’s most iconic inner forests, from the woodlands of New York City’s Central Park, to the shady trees of Uhuru Park in Nairobi. These “inner forests” include street trees, wooded parklands, and other green areas within city boundaries. These inner forests provide cost-effective solutions to city infrastructure challenges such as storm water treatment, flood control, 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 solutions to solve city challenges, and promote access to forests and nature while protecting these ecosystems. We provide our member cities with technical assistance and access to programs to increase citizen engagement. We also work to raise awareness of the economic benefits of using forests to mitigate climate change, and guide cities in managing 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 the nearby forests that filter water, provide timber, and contribute to city residents’ quality of life. “Nearby forests” support cleaner air and drinking water, reduce flooding, provide habitat to wildlife, and offer recreation space for urban residents. However, many of these forests are threatened by rapid urbanization.

Cities4Forests helps cities take an integrated approach to protecting their nearby forests, promoting their conservation and restoration, and finding ways to protect native biodiversity. Our network includes world-renowned examples of partnerships to protect nearby forests including São Paulo’s relationship with the Cantareira Water Supply System, and Brussels’ protection of the Sonian Forest. Likewise, Quito works with local communities in the surrounding hills to restore its watershed forests, helping provide essential city services (e.g. clean and reliable water supply) in a cost-effective way.

Cities4Forests helps cities to raise awareness of the benefits of its nearby forests, and to promote access to forests for eco-tourism. We work with our 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 studies, and peer-to-peer visits for water protection programs, and guidance to access funds for 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, from the Congo Basin to Australia’s Daintree rainforest. “Faraway forests” sequester the largest amounts of carbon, regulate the global water cycle, and generate rain for the world’s farms. They also 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 earth. However, urban populations are disconnected to these forests, and are 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 much of their biodiversity.

Faraway forests are a precious resource whose value must be communicated to cities and their residents. 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. Consumption within cities is largely responsible for this: Nearly 80% of global deforestation is driven by agriculture, especially for the production of beef, soy, and palm oil. Mining and fossil fuel extraction also drive  deforestation and pollute forest habitats.

Cities4Forests helps cities connect with faraway forests through meaningful partnerships, procurement strategies, and public awareness campaigns. Our Partner Forest Program helps cities source sustainable forest products, foster student exchange and ecotourism programs, and connect with forests of cultural and ecological importance.

We also provide cities with guidance on certified sustainable wood procurement for city infrastructure, help cities meet their climate commitments through protection of faraway forests, and offer 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