Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Arbor Day (the last Friday of April)

Arbor Day celebrates trees.  Trees are a fundamental element of a community's "natural" environment and landscape.

With regard to streets and tree cover, I've been influenced by park planner David Barth's recommendation that cities treat streets as "linear parks."

This cherry tree on the grounds of the Library of Congress dates to 1922 and has been provided with support to stay upright.  

The Tree City USA program of the National Arbor Day Foundation is the most widely known of programs that promote sound practices by local jurisdictions.  Washington DC is one of the many thousands of communities that have been designated by the program.

Cities as "municipal arboretums."  Most cities manage street trees via a forestry department that can be located in a variety of different agencies--public works, transportation, utilities, or parks.  Many cities and counties have regulations concerning maintenance and care of trees on public and private property.

More than 150 trees in a ravine of the city-owned West Duwamish Greenbelt in West Seattle were cut down illegally. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times).

Sadly, wealthy people have a tendency to cut down trees on public property to improve their views.  Sometimes they pay the price for this, other times they get away with it.

A particularly egregious case happened recently in Seattle ("An expensive, clear-cut crime in West Seattle," Seattle Times) where many mature trees were cut down from the West Duwamish Greenbelt. This has been a problem along the Potomac River in Montgomery County, Maryland also. From the article:
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is gathering evidence involving at least two homeowners so far, and he will present the findings to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.  The cost to replant and reclaim the site in the West Duwamish Greenbelt is expected to run several hundred thousand dollars and pushes the crime deep into felony territory.
Tree City sign for DC, obscured by other signsUnder their ArbNet program, the Morton Arboretum in Illinois has developed an arboretum accreditation program for communities.  It aims for the consideration and operation of a community's urban forest as a unit, an open "municipal arboretum."  Cities that are so accredited are Basalt, CO., Bexley, OH,  Oak Park, IL. and Newport, RI.

The Tree City program is a bit less robust than the "city as an arboretum" program in that the latter has a more intricate set of requirements concerning labeling trees, minimum number of species of trees, and community educational requirements.

Planning the urban forest: from urban forest to green infrastructure.  The US Forest Service has a wide variety of resources on Community and Urban Forestry.  Practice is advancing towards a broader concept and perspective, moving from "forestry" to "green infrastructure."

-- Planning the Urban Forest: Ecology, Economy, and Community Development, American Planning Association

Community forests/forest districts.  Illinois has parks districts, such as the Chicago Parks District.  It also has "forest preserve districts" that are set up like parks districts to preserve and manage community forests.  According to the history webpage of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the idea behind the district was to conserve natural landscapes during a period of rapid change.

-- Community Forests International
-- England's Community Forests

Like parks, these days forest preserves grapple with providing programs that attract new audiences.  For example, one forest preserve in Cook County is adding zip lines, in association with a Maryland-based company ("Zip lines coming to Cook County forest preserve," Chicago Tribune).  In an article last year, Chicago Tribune architecture writer opined that "Cook County Forest Preserve District has room to improve," but he is pleased with the trajectory of improvements after many years of the agency being treated as a backwater by the County Government.

The Truckee Meadows Community Forest in Nevada is another example of a "municipal arboretum," but they aren't part of the Arbnet program. From the webpage:
Community forests are important to an area’s quality of life, they are part of the “urban ecosystem.” Imagine what your neighborhood would be like if there weren’t any trees in it. A healthy community forest is an important part of the environmental and economic vitality of cities and towns across the country.

In the Truckee Meadows, our community forest does not occur naturally as it does in the Sierra Nevada or the Pacific Northwest. Much of Nevada is a dry, high-desert ecosystem where few trees grow on their own. Our community forest depends on people planting, caring for, and watering their trees. Sustaining the health and vigor of our region’s tree canopy is the combined responsibility of residents, business owners, nurseries, landscapers, and governments!

The majority of the community forest in the Truckee Meadows is growing in on private lands: in the front and back yards of homes and in common areas managed by homeowner’s associations. We also have trees growing in parking lots, next to shops, businesses and malls, and around our offices and industrial areas. Our public trees are found in parks, along our streets, and lining the Truckee River. This part of the community forest is primarily managed by our municipal governments (Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks), however, residents may care for some of these trees as well. The cities and county require trees and other vegetation be incorporated into new development projects in our community.

The community forest is an important part of our urban infrastructure just like our buildings, streets, sewers, and lights. As such, trees are an investment that requires maintenance. ...
Economic value of trees/urban forest. There are many reports on the economic value of trees, of both a direct and indirect nature such as this one.  Studies have found that commercial districts with a quality tree canopy are more successful than those without one ("City Trees and Property Values," Arborist News, 2007).

The National Tree Benefit Calculator provides data on the economic value of individual trees in terms of storm water, property value, energy savings, air quality, and carbon dioxide capture.

Pecan trees in the public square in Seguin, Texas.

Urban orchards/edible landscape.  In the 1900s, it was common for cities, such as in Texas, to plant nut trees on their public squares, and when the trees matured, community members were welcome to harvest nuts ("Pecan trees in public squares in Texas").  Today there are a number of urban orchard projects across the country ("Urban Food Forests Make Fruit Free For The Picking," NPR).

While messy when trees drop fruit, I'd argue that communities should extend their tree planting and maintenance programs to include fruit trees.  I've thought about adding fruit trees to our backyard, but they need other companion trees nearby to pollinate--plus we have other plantings, and it's hard to figure out where to put such trees in so they'd be assured of enough sun.

We have added some fruit bushes (blueberry, raspberry, and there were blackberries extant) but it is a war with the birds and squirrels to get some for ourselves.

-- "Eat Your Yard! How to Design an Edible Landscape," Mother Jones Magazine
-- Backyard Orchard Culture | Dave Wilson Nursery

There is a very old persimmon tree still producing fruit at the Takoma Recreation Center park grounds, but the fruit is "nasty."  Some of the best peaches I've ever eaten were harvested from an untended peach tree in a cemetery in Cambridge, Maryland, and while there I did eat some pecans from a backyard tree--some were great, others quite bitter.

Park volunteer activities.  Last weekend, which was rainy and miserable, Marina--the next door neighbor girl--and I went to volunteer at the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a National Park, and the activity we ended up doing was cutting away "invasive plants" in this case ivy and other creepers, from trees.  I figured this was the best activity because Marina loves climbing trees.

But seeing "how little" we accomplished in 90 minutes--although each tree was a great accomplishment, given all the trees in the park from the 14th Street Bridge to Daingerfield Island that are covered in ivy--I think they need more volunteer days!

We were told that creating a break around the entire tree the way we did would help the tree stay healthy over the next 5-8 years until more complete removal could occur.

(On our block many backyards have trees that have been killed by ivy growth.  We have to stay on top of that growth in our own yard, as we gradually pull out the ivy that had grown here for decades as part of the planted landscape of our yard.)

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At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and some people build tree houses on urban trees in Capitol Hill- now the tree- a rare American Elm- is becoming severely weakened and will likely die as a result of the trauma inflicted upon it by this illegal construction


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