How big does a forest have to be to make a difference in people’s lives?
Not very big. Greenery condensed to the size of a tennis court can have a huge effect.
This small-is-good idea germinated in the 1970s with Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who pioneered a way to plant young indigenous species close together to quickly regenerate forests on degraded land. Indian engineer Shubhendu Sharma learned about this technique in 2009 when Miyawaki created a forest at the Toyota factory where Sharma worked as an engineer. Realizing the potential, Sharma founded a company, Afforestt (https://www.afforestt.com/), to replicate this form of regeneration. He has generously shared his work in a 2014 TED Talk, and released instructions so anyone could learn how to create their own small native forest.
Since then, this idea has really “grown.” Afforestt has helped plant forests in 44 cities. Similar mini-projects are being established in Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom. Cities in Asia are embracing Miyawaki-style urban forests; in February, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced plans for 50 Miyawaki forests in Lahore, and in Chennai, India, officials set a target to plant 1,000.
The benefits are many. Preliminary data show that the tiny-forest carbon sequestration is on par with other forms of reforestation in the Netherlands. Plus there is the urban-cooling effect, better water regulation, and a substantial increase in biodiversity.
Of course, there is a learning curve. One early problem was species selection — sometimes native plants were ignored in favor of faster-growing varieties, and sometimes too many species were introduced. Now preliminary forest surveys to find the right plants are a bigger part of the equation.
But the idea is still sound, and by 2026, the goal is to see a small-footprint forest in every country in the European Union.
For more information, see https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/tiny-forest at the UNESCO website, and “Why ‘Tiny Forests’ Are Popping Up in Big Cities” by Elizabeth Hewitt (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/why-tiny-forests-are-popping-up-in-big-cities?)