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Dutch Residents Take A Walk Through The Forest — In The City

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” We’ve all probably heard the phrase too many times to count. It has long been used to say that other people’s situations often appear more pleasant than ours. It has traditionally been a short and succinct way of showing the power of appreciating what you have. 

However, it has begun to take on a more literal meaning for many of us. Shifting economic trends are bringing more and more of us to the city, especially younger crowds searching for jobs, entertainment, and other young people. For those who have either left the countryside for a metropolitan area or grew up there in the first place, one essential mental rite of passage is accepting that the grass is quite literally greener elsewhere. 

The city’s many attractions come at a cost — more options bring more people, which leaves less room for natural spaces to thrive or even survive. On a given block in any of America’s densest cities, a tree is either a carefully guarded rarity or an overbearing nuisance to pedestrians trying to stroll through cramped sidewalks on their morning commutes. The problem with this is that green spaces are incredibly beneficial, and simply living in proximity to them can significantly improve a person’s mood, stress levels, and self-esteem. 

Trees are also very good at mitigating the urban heat effect that plagues most urban areas and has been shown to decrease summertime temperatures by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases.

Then, a question remains of how environmentally-conscious city dwellers can get their neighbors and local municipalities on board with using more valuable square footage as gardens and small parks. In the Dutch town of Leeuwarden, organizers of the Bosk movement say they’ve found the answer: bring the forest to the city. 

Photo Courtesy Arcadia

While that may sound like a fancy way of saying that the group filed some motion with local officials, Bosk represents an idea far more involved and unconventional than most climate campaigns. With the help of volunteers, the group has created a “walking forest,” a collection of 1,000 individually potted trees that have been slowly moved along a 2-mile stretch of Leeuwarden for months. Beginning in May of this year, the trees embarked on a 100-day journey through the city’s center that culminated in their permanent planting throughout the limits, with emphasis on populating Leeuwarden’s lower-income neighborhoods that lack green spaces. 

As the tree count may suggest, Bosk is no small effort. The program relied extensively on volunteers to help move the hundreds of wooden tree containers over the months, a task that drew more and more support as news of the project started to pick up steam.

Even the boxes were detail-oriented, each equipped with a QR code that stated the tree’s species type (out of 60–70 options), preferred soil composition, and average lifespan. Boxes also included soil sensors that monitored the water levels of each tree. 

Photo Courtesy Arcadia

Bosk has changed the dynamic of Leeuwarden significantly this summer, and many community members have voiced their support for the numerous and immediate benefits of the program. Bruno Doedens, a landscape architect whose 2021 essay served as the basis for the Bosk program, expressed amusement at town patrons’ cries when it became time for the forest to move once more. “We created a ‘walking’ forest, and people want us to leave it in place,” he says

“The trees created such a calming effect; people immediately felt relaxed,” says Sjoukje Witkop, a local hotel general manager. “Why didn’t we have trees there before?  

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