London Plane trees line a busy NYC soccer field.
Our Future Forest A healthy urban forest makes our city more livable for all New Yorkers and helps tackle both the causes and effects of climate change. © Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

Stories in New York

Future Forest NYC

The urban forest in New York City needs a clear, coordinated vision and more champions. Our initiative helps to make this a reality.

Did you know that all the trees across New York City are part of a forest? Across NYC, more than 7 million trees live in tree beds on our sidewalks, in public parks, in natural areas, in backyards, and at the institutions where we live, work and play. Together, these trees and the physical and social infrastructure that support them make up the NYC urban forest, a vital system that serves all New Yorkers. Trees enhance quality of life and improve health and wellbeing for people by cleaning and cooling the air and reducing heat-related illness. But their many benefits do not reach everyone equitably. 

“Extreme heat is the leading weather-related cause of death nationally. Here in NYC, heat waves are projected to increase in frequency three- to five-fold by 2050, and they are expected to get longer,” says Emily Nobel Maxwell, Cities Director for The Nature Conservancy in New York. “We know that areas with more trees and plants are generally cooler, but as we mapped these dynamics across the five boroughs, it became easy to see that trees are not evenly distributed across the city. In fact, the most heat vulnerable neighborhoods tend to be low-income communities or communities of color with less tree cover.” 

What’s more, despite the importance of the urban forest and its perennial needs for stewardship, there is no dedicated, long-term funding or committed plan for managing this resource in the years ahead. There are also few protections from being cut down for trees on public or private property, and trees face a combination of threats from invasive pests and pathogens to accelerating climate change. 

Our Future: A Healthy and Equitable Urban Forest

For communities in New York City to thrive, our trees need a clear, coordinated vision and more champions. A healthy urban forest makes our city more livable for everyone and helps tackle both the causes and effects of climate change.

A person walking a dog stops on the sidewalk by a tree, with a painted mural of fish and water themes behind them.
The Power of Street Trees A young dawn redwood tree in Brooklyn, New York. © Diane Cook & Len Jenshel
A view down an urban street lines with trees on either side.
Tackling Climate Change The city's urban forest helps fight the effects of climate change, benefitting both people and nature. Future Forest NYC will help expand these benefits more equitably. © Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

That is why The Nature Conservancy has launched Future Forest NYC, an initiative to assure the future of the New York City urban forest―and the social and environmental benefits it provides―in a just and equitable way. To do so, we need good science, an inspired vision, a powerful and effective voice, a diverse community, and opportunities to connect New Yorkers to their trees.

To that end, Future Forest NYC has three main efforts underway:

Stewarding Trees in Brooklyn [1:14] Volunteers helped steward the New York City urban forest by caring for young street trees at a 2021 event with partners Trees New York and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

In The State of the Urban Forest in NYC report, The Nature Conservancy provides a novel assessment of the urban forest across public and private land in the city through multiple lenses, based on new analysis and synthesis of existing research. This report paints a clear picture and establishes a common baseline understanding of the urban forest, how it is managed, regulated, regarded, funded, and stewarded as well as opportunities for improvement. 

A person riding a bike away from the camera on a bike path next to a river, with a bridge and city skyline in the backgraound.
GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE The trees of Queensbridge Park along the East River in Long Island City provide more than shade and aesthetic benefits—they also filter air pollutants and particulate matter coming from traffic on the Queensboro Bridge. © Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

To establish the vision and voice for NYC’s trees, The Nature Conservancy convened the NYC Urban Forest Task Force in November 2019. This cross-sector group includes environmental, justice, conservation, non-profit, business and government leaders and organizations committed to creating a healthy, biodiverse, accessible and resilient urban forest that justly and equitably delivers benefits to all residents of New York City. The Task Force developed an ambitious NYC Urban Forest Agenda that includes specific recommendations for how to improve and enhance New York City’s urban forest through planning, stewardship and policy; local action by the public; and increased investments in trees across public and private lands. Now, the new and growing Forest for All NYC coalition has launched to advance the Agenda's goals.

Everyone deserves to live in a neighborhood rich with healthy trees and all the benefits they provide.

Because volunteer stewardship of trees is essential for ensuring longterm survival of new and established trees, The Nature Conservancy will also engage in neighborhood-based stewardship activities that address locally relevant challenges, as determined by project partners and volunteers. Tree stewardship also provides an important opportunity to foster social connection and sustained commitment to tree care over time. 

“Science helps us make better decisions, and there are real people, lives and stories behind the data. Working in partnership with leaders and communities is critical,” added Maxwell. “Everyone deserves to live in a neighborhood rich with healthy trees and all the benefits they provide.” 

Generous support from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation/Land Trust Alliance, The JPB Foundation, and Con Edison has made this work possible. 

Forest for All NYC: A Path Forward [2:24] Forest for All NYC is a broad and diverse coalition dedicated to conserving and expanding New York City's urban forest.