Green Cities: Protected forests in cities

Green Cities: Protected forests in cities

Published On: 5 de November de 2015

Article by Marcia Hirota and Evangelina Vormittag*, originally published on Blog do Planeta

We live disconnected from our forests. With few exceptions, we repeat a model of development in which large populations are densified in gray and arid urban centers, full of services of all kinds, but far from the environmental services that are so important to our survival and quality of life. The water, let's get further and further away. A wooded and biodiverse city, with cooler temperatures, regulated climate and pure air, is almost a dream.

The essential cause of this disharmony between perception and reality is the lack of knowledge about the role of forests in our lives. We believe that forests are just those great expanses of treetops far from cities, but we forget that our own cities were built on these green areas and still depend a lot on what's left of them.

In Brazil, 72% of the population, something like 145 million people, live in the 3,429 cities of the Atlantic Forest and depend on the environmental services provided by the biome. These cities also have one of the highest rates of urbanization in the country, with almost 90% of the population living in urban areas. And what's the surprise if not that a good part of what is left of the Atlantic Forest and is now protected is also close to or inserted in these same urbanized regions.

The data is from a recent study in which SOS Mata Atlântica sought to understand the challenges of this relationship between urbanization, nature conservation and citizenship, mapping, for the first time, the situation of the Municipal Conservation Units (UCs) of the Atlantic Forest.

UCs are areas that have fundamental resources for life and, therefore, are protected by law and must be taken care of by everyone. They are divided into 12 categories, some of which are quite restrictive and do not allow people to enter; others not only allow but also stimulate visitation, as is the case of parks – two examples are the famous Tijuca National Park, in Rio de Janeiro, and the Iguaçu National Park, in Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná.

The SOS Mata Atlântica survey identified 730 Municipal Conservation Units, totaling 2.3 million hectares (ha). Most of these UCs (715 units or 2.29 million ha) are in forest areas or associated ecosystems. Another 15 units (80 thousand ha) were registered in the Marine Zone. The Municipal UCs identified represent 46% of the total existing units in the Atlantic Forest.

More than 80% of the Municipal UCs of the Atlantic Forest are under the influence of urban centers and close to people. This is because most of these units are located in cities (71%) or in their surroundings (10%).

Even in smaller numbers (19%), the units inserted in the rural environment of the municipalities represent the largest territorial coverage, equivalent to 81%, with their main contribution being the protection and maintenance of freshwater and hydrographic basins that supply urban centers.

These forests in or near cities also bring several other benefits, such as climate regulation, air quality and the protection of people's health, topics that are left for a second article.

In order to conserve and recover the green areas of our cities, we have an extremely important challenge ahead of us: to reconnect the environment and society. Our quality of life, health, food, balance and social well-being depend on nature.

*Marcia Hirota is executive director of Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica; Evangelina Vormittag is the director-president of the Instituto Saúde & Sustentabilidade.


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