America’s 10 Best Urban Forests

Is your city a leafy oasis or a concrete jungle? While most United States metropolises boast more skyscrapers than sky-high pines, a number of American cities have worked to establish urban forests, ecosystems of parks, water systems and trees planted along city streets.

Conservation nonprofit American Forests recently announced its yearly rankings of the country’s 10 Best Cities for Urban Forests. The rankings measure the top 50 most populous cities in the U.S. in terms of their urban forests’ sustainability, accessibility and health. Sorry, Big Bad Wood crews – your Boston hometown didn’t make this year’s Top 10.

Check out the list, in alphabetical order, below:

AustinTX1. Austin, TX

The Texas city’s unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” And with its warm, sunny climate (the city boasts a rumored 300 days of sunshine per year), healthy tree canopy and natural spring-water swimming holes, it’s easy to see why Austin inhabitants want to maintain their leafy city’s status quo.

With 36 acres of park per thousand people, Austin has capitalized on its weather to develop a flourishing urban forest, supported by city planning and tree ordinances.

2. Charlotte, NCCharlotte NC

With approximately one public tree for every seven residents, Charlotte’s green living ordinances and tree protection has helped the city develop one of the country’s best urban forests.

Featuring top-notch recreation activities like its literature-themed “pocket” park The Green, the city’s tree provide over $900,000 in energy savings and $2.1 million in stormwater controls yearly.



 Denver3. Denver, CO

With over 200 named parks – ranging from miniature to the 314-acre City Park – the Mile High City has developed a dynamic urban forest.

The city’s minimal rainfall may make for less-than-ideal growing conditions, but that hasn’t impeded Denver’s impressive urban forest, including its botanic gardens’ 32,000+ species of plants and arboretum’s 3,000 trees. Denver’s parks bring in over $18 million in tourism income.

Milwaukee 4. Milwaukee, WI

On the shore of Lake Michigan sits Milwaukee, home to Wisconsin’s only urban state park, the aptly named Lakeshore State Park. With 25 acres of park per 1,000 residents, prehistoric glaciers account for the region’s many lakes.

Milwaukee’s past struggles with Dutch elm disease led to city-implemented diversification plans for a strong urban forest, which helps remove 496 tons of pollution annually.



Minneapolis5. Minneapolis, MN

Recently ranked both America’s Fittest City and one of the World’s Greenest Cities, it’s no surprise that Minneapolis is developed one of the country’s best urban forests.

Out of a potential of tree canopy of 37.5% of the city, Minneapolis’ canopy sits at an enormous 31%. Containing one park in every six blocks, the city’s valuable urban forest significantly reduces both energy use and carbon emissions produced by the city.




6. New York, NY

Pop culture’s ultimate “concrete jungle,” NYC is home to America’s most familiar urban park, Central Park – and boasts a substantial 19% parkland to boot.

New York’s urban forest is set to grow substantially in the next decade, with plans to plant one million new trees by 2017 through extensive public and community outreach. The city’s forestry also helps battle pollution, removing 2,000+ tons of waste each year.



PortlandFarmersMarket7. Portland, OR

Spoofed for its hipness on “Portlandia,” the city of Portland’s commitment to its urban greenery is no joking matter, outpacing other U.S. cities with its growing tree canopy.

A haven for bikers, runners and outdoors-y folk, Portland is home to a 5,000+ acre park with 70 miles of trails. Its green infrastructure growth is the result of  collaborations by government, nonprofit and community organizations, which turn former parking lots and highways into green spaces.

Sacramento8. Sacramento, CA

California’s capital city also hosts the state’s best urban forest. With 23,000 new trees planted in 2010 and city partnerships planting thousands more each year, Sacramento’s urban forest is only getting stronger.

Similar to Denver in its dry climate, Sacramento overcame the odds and developed a healthy urban forest, bolstered by government support and a dedicated volunteer base, donating thousands of hours each year to green the city.

SeattleWA9. Seattle, WA

The West Coast is highly represented in the nation’s best urban forests, and the largest city in Washington State is no exception. Seattle’s abundant water recreation activities and varied parks – from a converted oil refinery to sandy beaches – are evidence of the city’s dedication to urban forestry.

With over 4 million trees within the city, Seattle’s substantial urban forest is estimated to be worth nearly $5 billion.



WashingtonDC10. Washington, DC

From America’s first urban park, Rock Creek Park, to its green National Mall lined with monuments, D.C. envelops over 7,000 acres of parkland within its small city limits.

With a new sustainability effort announced by the city government in 2011, Washington has developed a healthy 35% tree canopy. In accordance with the city’s activist bent, it also hosts a number of greening initiative like environmental justice, advocacy and training for green jobs.

Urban tree cutters – like the Big Bad Wood crews – help keep urban forests across America healthy and safe. Catch an all-new episode of Big Bad Wood tonight at 9P.


  1. […] America’s 10 Best Urban Forests | Maeve McDermott | National Geographic “While most United States metropolises boast more skyscrapers than sky-high pines, a number of American cities have worked to establish urban forests…” […]

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