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Decision-making of municipal urban forest managers through the lens of governance

Ordóñez C, Threlfall CG, Livesley SJ, Kendal D, Fuller RA, Davern M, van der Ree R & Hochuli DF (2020) Decision-making of municipal urban forest managers through the lens of governance. Environmental Science and Policy, 104, 136-147.

Awareness of the benefits of urban trees has led many cities to develop ambitious targets to increase tree numbers and canopy cover. Policy instruments that guide the planning of cities recognize the need for new governance arrangements to implement this agenda. Urban forests are greatly influenced by the decisions of municipal managers, but there is currently no clear understanding of how municipal managers find support to implement their decisions via new governance arrangements. To fill this knowledge gap, we collected empirical data through interviews with 23 urban forest municipal managers in 12 local governments in Greater Melbourne and regional Victoria, Australia, and analysed these data using qualitative interpretative methods through a governance lens. The goal of this was to understand the issues and challenges, stakeholders, resources, processes, and rules behind the decision-making of municipal managers. Municipal managers said that urban densification and expansion were making it difficult for them to implement their strategies to increase tree numbers and canopy cover. The coordination of stakeholders was more important for managers to find support to implement their decisions than having a bigger budget. The views of the public or wider community and a municipal government culture of risk aversion were also making it difficult for municipal managers to implement their strategies. Decision-making priorities and processes were not the same across urban centres. Lack of space to grow trees in new developments, excessive tree removal, and public consultation, were ideas more frequently raised in inner urban centres, while urban expansion, increased active use of greenspaces, and lack of data/information about tree assets were concerns for outer and regional centres. Nonetheless, inter-departmental coordination was a common theme shared among all cities. Strengthening coordination processes is an important way for local governments to overcome these barriers and effectively implement their urban forest strategies.

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