Urban greening: Science and common sense

Tree planting in urban areas is not merely an exercise in beautification; it is a crucial aspect of urban planning that has significant environmental, social, and economic impacts.

The recent advice from experts and scientists underscores the importance of making informed, science-based decisions when selecting tree species for public spaces in Iloilo City to avoid long-term environmental and economic costs.

Concerns about the long-term implications of tree selection, such as the potential for buttressing roots to damage concrete structures, highlight a critical consideration for urban planners.

While the dita tree (Alstonia scholaris) is a good native choice due to its crown structure, it will eventually develop buttress roots, which could damage concrete infrastructures over time. This foresight is crucial for urban planning, as repairing such damage can be costly and disruptive.

The choice of trees must balance immediate benefits with long-term sustainability. Large-leaved trees provide essential shade for pedestrians and cyclists, enhancing the usability of urban spaces and contributing to public health. Medium-sized, drought-resistant species, particularly from the Fabaceae family, could offer a pragmatic solution, combining resilience with environmental benefits.

The planting of invasive alien plant species (IAPS) such as royal palm trees and pink trumpet trees along Iloilo City’s Diversion Road highlights the risks of not considering ecological compatibility.

IAPS can lead to habitat destruction and biotic invasions, threatening local biodiversity and exacerbating environmental issues. The detrimental effects of IAPS have been documented extensively, including increased risks to human health and socio-economic stability.

However, urban greening efforts in Iloilo City are complicated by land ownership, with many suitable areas under private ownership or occupied by businesses. This scenario calls for a comprehensive review of land use plans to prioritize and institutionalize urban greening and open space planning. The local government, in collaboration with stakeholders, must develop policies that encourage the creation and maintenance of green spaces.

Incentivizing businesses that promote or establish green spaces can play a vital role. Businesses should be encouraged to integrate green spaces into their developments, contributing to the city’s overall greenery and providing public benefits. This approach not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of urban areas but also supports biodiversity, improves air quality, and mitigates the urban heat island effect.

The reference to Singapore’s successful ‘garden city’ initiative illustrates the long-term benefits of strategic urban greening. Singapore’s foresight in the 1960s has yielded enduring environmental and social dividends, serving as a model for Iloilo City. Trees planted today, if chosen wisely, can continue to benefit future generations, providing shade, improving air quality, and enhancing urban livability.

The City Hall’s plans to replace invasive species with native and exotic trees, alongside retrofitting plant boxes, is a step in the right direction. However, this initiative should be part of a broader, scientifically informed strategy that includes diverse stakeholder input and ongoing public education on the importance of urban greenery.

Urban greening is not just about planting trees; it’s about planting the right trees in the right places, based on sound scientific principles and practical considerations. Iloilo City’s efforts to enhance its green spaces must be grounded in a strategic vision that incorporates ecological, social, and economic factors.

By reviewing land use plans, institutionalizing urban greening, and incentivizing businesses, Iloilo can set a precedent for sustainable urban development in the Philippines. This holistic approach will ensure that urban green spaces are not only aesthetically pleasing but also environmentally resilient and beneficial for generations to come.