Smart urban forests: An overview of more-than-human and more-than-real urban forest management in Australian cities

Elsevier, Digital Geography and Society, Volume 2, January 2021
Prebble S., McLean J., Houston D.

These are uncertain times in the Anthropocene, where the health and resilience of all urban inhabitants should be key themes for cities striving for sustainability. To this end, local councils in Australia are applying digital technologies with increasing complexity as components of their urban forest management. This paper applies a more-than-human lens to analyse Australian local council urban forest policies, documents and project information for their inclusion and application of digital technologies. In this scoping review, digital geographies informed data collection to answer questions about the type, use and ownerships of tree data, and more-than-real and ‘lively data’ concepts were employed to extend their discussion. Our analysis found that local government policies focused on general urban tree data and canopy percentages and utilised this data to justify and create policy and program parameters. There was a general lack of more-than-human considerations beyond the focus on trees in creating and designing smart urban forests, but it is unclear whether this was due to technical limitations, council desires or other factors. Challenges identified for successful outcomes included balancing priorities, access to resources and information, technological constraints, and community factors such as capacity to engage and cultural values. Digital technologies that facilitate smart urban forests tended to reinforce and re-solidify Western values. However, strengths of current applications are also evident, and we explore how they provide more-than-real possibilities for human-nature relationships to deepen and foster collaborations between disparate groups and entities in urban environments. Greater consideration and acknowledgment of the more-than-human and understanding of the more-than-real in co-creation and co-design of digital technologies and their applications may facilitate more positive outcomes for human and non-human urban inhabitants.