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Introduction to Planning for Urban Forests

Planning is the coordinated, organized, and ongoing process that guides decision-making, change, and growth in a community, city, region, or nation.53 A lack of planning risks misaligned efforts from various partners working on these issues in silos. When planning is not participatory or inclusive, policies and laws may be perceived as incohesive or arbitrary.

A few sound principles for planning include.54

  • Ensuring consistency between plans and codes related to trees and other green infrastructure across agencies. Plans should be simple and clear. They should be aligned with national or regional policies, and urban forest-related goals established in one plan should be cross-referenced with other plans that impact urban forests.  
  • Collaborating with a diverse team when drafting codes and ordinances. Urban planners, developers, arborists, landscape architects, environmentalists, public works officials, community members, and others will each provide a unique perspective.
  • Effective planning also incorporates feedback and uses new data to inform future strategies and goals.70

Urban trees and forests may be included in several city plans and documents. The table below shows some examples of relevant plans and typical content.

Plan or document typeCommon contents and distinguishing features
Comprehensive or
master plan
Community plan, often extends decades into the future
Strategic planOutlines actions related to key issue(s), over shorter time frame than comprehensive plan
Climate action planRoadmap to help city reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Local or
partial plan
Neighborhood-scale plan, establishes vision and land-use guidance
Site development planGuidelines for construction and development
Utility planProvides guidance on planning related to utility function, such as powerlines for energy supply
Urban forest
management plan
Roadmap for urban forest design, management, and more
Transportation or
mobility plan
Provides guidance for public transportation system and priority improvements
Green infrastructure
plan
Plan related to nature-based solutions, typically with emphasis on stormwater management
Design and
engineering manual
Plan that includes specifications for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure
Parks planGuides development and maintenance of park and recreational space
Image: Cities4Forests. Adapted from San Francisco Urban Forest Plan (2014).