We introduce a conceptual model of the urban forest patch as a complex social-ecological system, incorporating cross-scale interactions. We developed this model through an interdisciplinary process engaging social and ecological scientists and urban land management decision makers, with a focus on temperate forest social-ecological systems. In this paper, we place the production and management of urban forest patches in historical perspective, present a conceptual model of urban forest patches within a broader regional context, and identify a series of research questions to highlight future directions for research on urban forest patches. This conceptual model identifies how spatial and temporal social-ecological drivers interact with patch-level conditions at multiple scales. Our integrative approach can provide insights into the role of social-ecological drivers in shaping forest health, biodiversity, and benefits forest patches provide to people in urban and urbanizing regions, with direct implications for decision-making to improve management outcomes.