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Interview: Forests in Future Porto, a low cost project made for and by people

The project “Futuro”, as in Future, aims to plant 100.000 native trees in Porto’s Metropolitan Areabut without any allocated budget. A critical part of the project is the search for patches of public and private land suitable for planting. That is why the close collaboration between the regional centre, the municipalities, landowners and environmental associations is crucial. In order to find out how they achieve this sustainability goal, we interviewed Marta Pinto, the project’s Coordinator, from Porto’s Regional Centre of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development (RCE.Porto).


The Metropolitan Area of Porto has 1,6 million inhabitants and comprises 16 municipalities. The territory is a jigsaw puzzle of urban, agricultural and forest areas.

The first Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) 

Between 2003 and 2008 the first participative SEP was developed for Porto’s Metropolitan Area, a unique initiative in Portugal, which was awarded by ICLEI (see Case Study). Native forests was one of the priorities set in the SEP.

Green areas and the risk of monoculture forests

Many benefits are associated with urban green spaces. Some are referred to as ecosystems services which can mean air filtering, rainwater drainage, noise reduction, soil recycling, etc. In Porto’s central municipality the public green area is 7m2/cap, well below the European average of 20m2/cap. While 41% of the metropolitan area is covered by forest, more than 90% of that area is covered by monocultures of eucalyptus and maritime pines. These species, cultivated to supply the paper industry, are associated with higher fire incidences and with sustaining less biodiversity than native species. Native tree species are almost symbolic in the region. 

How did it all start?

Pinto: “This idea came about during a meeting of RCE.Porto with our partners. We were strongly motivated to develop a project with a concrete impact on the sustainability of the territory that would build on citizen’s involvement and capacity-building. Due to the SEP, we knew that improving native forest was a priority for the region. Once consensus was reached I started designing the project. All the questions (how, who, when and with which resources) were negotiated with our partners resulting in a sound plan which is now being implemented.“ 

Co-creation enables a stronger commitment 

Pinto: “It is exciting to see that this project is an outcome of the process of environmental planning for the region. We can be proud of being able to put in practice an action that exists because there was a SEP. Then it is very positive to see that the social capital built during the elaboration of this plan enables us to do things in a different way, i.e. as people are involved in the design of the project right from the beginning they become part of it and this makes them very committed to its implementation. When we work together our common goal orients our action - planting and caring for 100.000 native trees in the region – no matter which organization we represent.”

Designing the project in a collaborative and low-cost way 

Pinto: “The most complex part, although not necessarily the most difficult, was to design the project in a collaborative way. There is a quote from Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet, which says: ‘nothing goes beyond the borders of the collective without leaving on them its greatest part of intelligence’. My task was to try to bring that intelligence together and to understand which resources each partner could bring to the project, so that it could be completely low-cost.” 

The low-cost challenge

Pinto: “There is no budget for this project implementation. Everything is negotiated with our partners. The municipalities offer their time, human resources and finance the cleaning of the fields; Lipor, in charge of the municipal waste management, contributes with compost; Luis Simoes, a logistics company, transports the trees from the nurseries; the ICNF (national institute for nature conservation) provides human resources for the seeds germination; Quercus (environmental NGO) and ICNF offer trees... and so on.”

Citizens’ involvement

Pinto: “I am enthusiastic to see that, unlike what is commonly stated, the citizens want to collaborate, to do something useful, to learn. We have a very positive response from people. About 3000 volunteers have participated in the actions, contributing with 9000 hours of voluntary work. As I am from Porto and I have lived here most of my life, it is specially rewarding to participate in something that has a real and positive impact on this region.”