How Milan turns into a gigantic urban forest

Milan is perhaps best known as an industrial powerhouse and a global fashion hub. But today, the capital of Lombardy is also consolidating its reputation as a true innovator in the fight against climate change.

A few years ago, the city was making the headlines with its striking (and we have to admit it quite strange) ‘Bosco Vertical‘: two residential blocks covered with shrubs that together contain as many trees as you will find in a hectare of forest. And in the years that followed, Milan doubled its ecological benchmarks. Stefano Boeri, the architect responsible for the “vertical forest”, is also involved in Forestami: a city-wide plan to plant three million new trees – one for each citizen – by 2030.

Planting trees is an easy way to offset the carbon emissions produced by cities. They also purify the air, improve biodiversity, provide shade and cover, and counteract the heat-absorbing qualities of roads and buildings.

And yet, Milan don’t just plant tons of them and hope for the best, they also lead the way when it comes to determination. How? ‘Or’ What plant those trees. In collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Milan, he strives to find the most suitable tree species, and the very precise places where it would be preferable to plant them.

Photography: Shutterstock

But while Forestami’s campaign is well underway, it now faces another challenge: raising awareness among Milanese citizens of the importance of reforestation. Most people will agree that the world needs more trees, but many will protest when it is suggested that they be planted in their front garden.

“You have to transform not only the space, but also the people who live there,” explains Maria Chiara Pastore, Scientific Director of Forestami. “You have to accept that you need space for a tree and that it will leave less space for something else. “

Planting trees is not all Milan is doing to help tackle the climate crisis. The municipality received a Loan of 200 million euros of the European Investment Bank to finance renewable energy sources and make public buildings more energy efficient, as well as improve its waste management and recycling centers.

By 2030, Milan also wants its entire bus fleet to be electric and all new buildings to be zero-emission structures. it’s even organize “hackathons”: events where groups compete to find the best solutions to Milan’s pollution problems. By improving public transport and cycle paths, the city has also reduced the number of cars per 100 inhabitants from 89 in the 1990s to just 49 in 2021.

Electric bus in Milan
Photograph: Federico Fermeglia /

The result of all this is that Milan is the only Italian city to have achieved the goals set in the Paris Agreement 2016 and one of the just 54 cities in the world on track to keep global warming below 1.5 ° C.

So how does the Milan Urban Forestry Project compare to other similar initiatives around the world? Some take a similar approach to tree planting: the Million Trees Initiative saw cities whose Los Angeles, Denver, New York City and Shanghai all pledging to raise a million new trees.

The UN, meanwhile, is working with Boeri and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to grow 90 urban forests in 30 countries in Africa and Asia. Other cities are focusing on planting trees on the streets. In London 280,000 trees have been planted since 2016, while New York is enforcing a policy that requires trees to be planted outside any new building.

Map of potential forest cover in Milan
Image: ForestamiMap of potential forest cover in Milan

In Milan, the reforestation campaign is already looking far beyond the city limits. Its conclusions are open source released online, and Pastore hopes Forestami’s findings can aid urban forestry efforts both in Italy and around the world.

“We work in different networks, cooperating not only with institutions but with all those who wish,” she says. “It’s very open – we are not competitive but collaborative. There is only one planet.

As the world’s population grows – and mega-cities continue to expand – innovation is going to have to start in the urban environment. And right now, despite its industrial past, it looks like Milan might just be the model green metropolis.

Discover now Paris’ plans to become the greenest city in Europe by 2030.

And how Amsterdam is embracing the ‘donut model’ – and why other cities should too.

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