- There are positive perceptions on urban trees across varying socio-economic contexts.
- Urban trees are perceived as important for quality of life in cities.
- There is overall dissatisfaction with current urban tree distributions.
- Residents prefer trees planted in both their private yards and on the streets.
Urban trees are vital components of urban ecosystems, and thus important for environmental quality, urban sustainability, and quality of life in cities. Regrettably, urban trees are sometimes unequally distributed both between and within towns, a pattern largely associated with differences in the social environment of cities and historical patterns of development, and the dearth in strategic management plans and systematic monitoring of the existing urban forest. Most management plans focus on ecological and arboricultural aspects at the expense of the social, and studies examining perceptions in relation urban forests are largely from developed countries. Accordingly, we conducted a study to examine the perceptions and preferences regarding urban trees of 1200 residents from 10 urban areas across multiple socio-economic contexts in South Africa. We found that most (87%) urban residents have positive perceptions of trees. This was supported by emphasis placed on the importance of urban trees for quality of life in towns by >70% of respondents. However, >70% of respondents were dissatisfied with both the appearance of their streets and the insufficient number of street trees. They emphasized their preference for having trees both on the street and in their private yards, highlighting an array of benefits provided by urban trees. Incorporating residents’ perceptions and preferences of urban greening into plans and strategies towards urban forest establishment and management is a crucial strategy towards the reduction of disparities in urban forest distribution. Furthermore, it contributes to the establishment of an urban forest that accommodates user-needs based on user preferences, while also serving the needs of the broader natural environment.