Could microforests help us reclaim neglected spaces?

Anne BrockOur Town Outdoors

We’ve all passed by them at one time or another: neglected spaces, brownfields, urban decay. Perhaps they’re not even city spaces. Sometimes previously thriving rural areas become gravel and weed memorials to times gone by. Could the microforest trend inspire a solution that makes sense for reclaiming the uglier parts of our communities?

The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, used the method inspired by Professor Akira Miyawaki as early as the ‘70s to create a microforest in 2022 on the site of a former landfill. In just a 4,000 square foot area, volunteers helped plant a dense thicket of trees along with other native species. It’s one of many microforest projects popping up around the globe in recent years, more recently inspired by efforts to slow climate change and sequester carbon. Even as the globe suffers deforestation, this aims to quickly add a close replica of native forest.

Decades ago in Japan, Professor Miyawaki studied how areas around temples and graves, mostly undisturbed by human activity, thrived with biodiversity compared to other areas. He developed methods of replicating native plantings, saving seeds and encouraging a density of planting unlike contemporary landscaping methods. His work became recognized internationally, and others have been studying the merits of this extreme diversity, even in very small urban spaces. Now ecology groups like are promoting this concept as a climate change solution.

This article gives specific examples of how to plan layers in your microforest. The federal government is even giving grants for municipalities to encourage savvy tree planting.

Locally, you may see hints of this in the Knoxville Urban Forest Master Plan, or in projects like Angora Frog Farm. In its simplest form, the Miyawaki method inspires us to not just plant a tree, but to create a tiny new ecosystem to replace a bit of what we’ve already lost.

Anne Brock is marketing coordinator for Solar Alliance, which designs and manages solar installation projects for manufacturers and small businesses. It also offers a Solar 101 class. She can be reached at or 865-221-8349.


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