Are Mini Forests Coming to a City Near You?

A Miyawaki forest being planted on the outskirts of Paris, France. Image Courtesy of Boomforest

As the World Economic Forum recently wrote, miniature urban forests (often no bigger than a tennis court) planted using a method invented by a Japanese botanist in the 1970s are growing in popularity. Known as “Miyawaki” forests, these dense groups of trees are bursting with biodiversity and grow more quickly and absorb more CO2 than plantations grown for timber.

WEF explained that the idea for this method of urban forestry is simple – take brownfield sites, plant them densely with a wide variety of native seedlings, and let them grow with minimal intervention. The result, according to the method’s proponents, is complex ecosystems perfectly suited to local conditions that improve biodiversity, grow quickly and absorb more CO2.

Why This Matters: Planting trees, curbing deforestation, and actively reforesting land are key components in combating climate change. What’s noteworthy about Miyawaki forests is that they’re based on community needs and native vegetation. This is important because as we focus on reforestation to help sequester carbon we must also ensure that we’re planting the right trees and plants, otherwise, the benefits of planting more trees could be vastly overstated.

The Benefits of Mini Urban Forests: The Miyawaki method has become popular throughout India and as well as gaining prominence in Europe. As the Guardian reported, advocates for the method say the miniature forests grow 10 times faster and become 30 times denser and 100 times more biodiverse than those planted by conventional methods.

  • This result is achieved by planting saplings close together, three per square metre, using native varieties adapted to local conditions. A wide variety of species – ideally 30 or more – are planted to recreate the layers of a natural forest.
  • Scientists say such ecosystems are key to meeting climate goals, estimating that natural forests can store 40 times more carbon than single-species plantations.
  • The Miyawaki forests are designed to regenerate land in far less time than the 70-plus years it takes a forest to recover on its own.

Furthermore, research in the United States demonstrates that urban trees remove large amounts of air pollution that consequently improve urban air quality. Since 4 in 10 Americans breathe unsafe air, urban forestry can help reduce dangerous levels of pollution and the resulting human health consequences.

It should be noted that replanting forests in this manner is no replacement for old-growth forests. But in cities that have been devoid of forests, this method can provide habitat for birds and other urban animals as well as acting as a wildlife corridor to help urban wildlife safely navigate cities and the built environment.

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