My definition of hell is a city with no trees. Where heat and harsh light bounce from one hard surface to the next, and there is no escape. The other day, I happened to drive down a street I used to go down almost daily, while taking my kids to school. I nearly crashed the car – the street was almost unrecognizable!
As recently as last year, these blocks were lined with several mature trees, with branches from opposing sides mingling in the middle, creating a cool, lush, green tunnel that felt like a protective blessing on a hot day. Those trees were gone. A few houses down, there used to stand tall conifers, towering over the houses. They were still standing, but all limbed up to far above the rooftops. They looked completely misshapen and ridiculous. I was too stunned to take a picture, but hopefully my description will be enough to communicate the shocking scenario. I’ve been consumed by this preview of hell ever since.
We all know that trees are beneficial for so very many reasons. This old post will explain why I fret about trees, when entire blocks have been razed throughout the city, and whole neighborhoods continue to disappear under new, multistory condos and multiuse buildings. The demise of trees goes hand in hand with rampant development, and what I saw on that street was no different. It infuriated me to such a degree that I started wondering what can be done politically to save Portland’s shade trees – and in essence, save the city from exponentially increasing its heat island effect, effectively becoming my version of hell.
In this city, there are a lot of ridiculous rules regarding trees – rules that often don’t make sense. Skinny little parking strips with wires overhead aren’t ideal for lining streets with trees. If trees aren’t allowed to grow tall, large vehicles easily disfigure them when trying to navigate narrow streets. At the same time, large brittle trees planted too close to human habitation, are dangerous – especially when they start deteriorating. And, for those in wildfire prone areas (which as last summer showed, isn’t too far away from the city) leaving a band of tree free land around the house can be a life saver. So much to think about… I know here in Oregon, you need 80,000 signatures to put a Measure on the ballot. And, in order to make it pass, it has to make sense. Which could be complicated, considering how many angles need to be accounted for. (And, which is probably why the current rules are so messed up and often contradictory.)
Profit drives development. I know this is krass, but I think the money argument should be used to drive tree protection as well – it’s the only thing the world listens to. (And I’m not talking in the form of lumber sales.) Trees add actual value – some quantitative, but many of them qualitative, and difficult to measure. The crux is, how do we craft a case tight enough so that both public and politicians not only will buy it, but WANT to buy it? I would love to hear your thoughts on how to get this ball rolling. How can we enact better legislation to protect the mature tree cover we have, while retaining a certain measure of flexibility in other tree matters? Is that even possible?