Wednesday Vignette – my definition of hell

IMG_8624My 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?

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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29 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – my definition of hell

  1. A very sad tale. Another blogger has reported the same heat-exacerbating problem in India, of all places

  2. Mark and Gaz says:

    The value of trees in any neighbourhood and space is immeasurable!

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    Oh you’re so right about trees. Our town is a hot little place in the Summer, and I can’t understand why our council won’t undertake a tree planting program in suburban streets. There are nice Manchurian pears in the main street, but there the responsibility seems to finish. I’ve written to the local paper, but nothing came of that.

    • annamadeit says:

      What do your neighbors say? We have an organization called Friends of Trees here. They encourage home owners to plant more trees, and help them keep them alive by offering irrigation programs to ensure they get properly established. I’ve also thought about educating school kids about the importance of trees, and letting them plant a “class tree” that they can maintain while they are together. So far, just ideas on that end – no follow through. Yet.

      • janesmudgeegarden says:

        I live in a new area and we are the only people in our cul-de-sac who have a proper garden and more than one tree. I don’t think anyone else is interested. Certainly in schools children here are taught about the importance of trees and gardens, and many schools have their own gardens.

        • annamadeit says:

          Gosh, you’d think in your climate, some shade to recover in would be a highly attractive idea… Good thing the kids learn about it. That was actually one of my long term ideas for changing the culture around gardens and nature around here. So very many are completely unaware of anything that grows. It’s mindboggling – how did we get this way…?

  4. Peter Herpst says:

    Sad indeed. I wish I had an idea about how to get the ball rolling. Here the talk is all about urban infill, cramming as much housing into existing spaces as possible. Owners of homes with more than one lot are encouraged to build more housing on their garden spaces which often means cutting down trees. Homeowners find this attractive as they can make money by selling the home and property or keeping it and having a rental income.

  5. Any idea who took out the trees and why? I’m assuming a city agency. Maybe Friends of Trees can assist?

    • annamadeit says:

      I believe they were removed by new owners. There is a law that if a tree is 10′ from the foundation, the City HAS TO grant a removal permit – even if the tree is healthy, and there is no proof of damage to the house. These particular tree trunks were 40″ in diameter. They will take at least another human lifetime to replace… The tragedy is that trees take time to develop, and we are removing them at a rate far faster that we can replace them. New little saplings to replace these giants would be like handing out dollars for cents – we’re going into our negatives here… It’s not sustainable.

  6. You know where I stand on this issue. Go Anna! So where are those lovely specimens that you photographed?

    • annamadeit says:

      I’ll count on your editorial help and your signature when the time comes! Those Chestnuts are on 16th Ave in Irvington, between Knott and Stanton. Stunning trees outside a friend’s home – absolutely magical! Worth a drive-by for sure.

  7. annamadeit says:

    Peter – it’s the same here. I can see the allure of that, but good grief – there’s got to be something that can be done… A client yesterday mentioned that she is thinking about putting her massive Copper Beech on the National Registry of Trees, in order to protect it from future developers. I think that’s a great idea! The trend here as well is to tear down larger homes, and cramming as much housing as can possibly fit, onto each lot with no regards to anything other than profits. Maybe we need to create a local Tree Registry as well – that could not be protected by law, as to not being violated by builders and developers…? Hmmm…

  8. Alison says:

    I’m sorry I have no advice for you, only something I hope may be inspiring. Have you heard of the Bosco Verticale in Milan, Italy? It’s a pair of tall apartment buildings built to hold hundreds of trees on their balconies. Here’s a Wikipedia link:

    My WV is here:

    • annamadeit says:

      I have seen that in some design mag before, but damn – I would happily read an entire book on that project. It’s super cool, and so ahead of its time. You are right – we should look at solutions like that for inspiration! Thanks for making me feel a bit better, Alison! ❤

  9. FlowerAlley says:

    I feel your pain. Trees are not just wood. D.C. Peattie wrote a wonderful book about our trees. It is informative and poetic with lovely illustrations. Trees: to know them is to love them.

  10. Kris P says:

    I’ve heard of some initiatives to change construction rules to require builders to add trees and/or preserve those already standing in the area in which they want to build. Most seem to be enacted in smaller communities, where the appeal of the area (and the desire to boost property values) encourage locals to support special ordinances. Sadly, I live in a community that enacted a “view conservation” ordinance in 1989 that values ocean views over trees. However, as it stands, drought and its nasty assistant, the pine bark beetle, are taking out more trees than neighbors battling over views. Several very large and very dead trees were taken out up the road from me just last week, creating holes in what used to be a pleasant tunnel of shade.

    • annamadeit says:

      I’ve heard of some too – or at least attempts to instate some kind of controls on permitting. It obviously hasn’t worked. Which doesn’t mean that one can’t try again, of course. I think “boost values” are a key concept to sell to get anything passed. Money talks, as Derrick said below. Heavens forbid we would actually do something that was good for any other reason… 😦

  11. Signe Danler says:

    There is abundant research available showing the economic, health, and aesthetic benefits of urban trees. The trouble is getting it in front of politicians, developers, and other decision makers. If you are interested in working on that, here is one place to start.

  12. tonytomeo says:

    Here in the redwood forests, we have too many trees. I am more concerned with cutting them down than planting them. Sometimes, I wish I had more space to plant other trees that we lack! It is completely opposite in Los Angeles, where we plant hundreds of trees, without really contributing much to the urban forest. The tree preservation ordinances are a real hassle in some of the municipalities here, but working in Los Angeles reminds me why they are so necessary. Los Angeles really needs to enforce the ordinances. The main problem there is cultural apathy.

    • annamadeit says:

      We have that same cultural apathy here. It used to be a rather green city, but with the rampant construction, a lot of trees have been sacrificed too. I’m glad at least a few pockets of the world have “too many trees”, since there are so many areas that don’t have enough. Even if it might be a hassle for certain kinds of rejuvenation.

      • tonytomeo says:

        You know, as frustrated as I get about the lack of trees in Los Angeles, San Jose and San Diego (the three biggest cities in California), there are actually many more trees here than there was naturally. These are chaparral or desert climates. Naturally, there were only a few trees scattered about, and only in riparian areas. There were a few big oaks scattered around San Jose, but mostly open grasslands. The only other time in history when there were more trees in San Jose was when the area was crowded with orchards. There were so many trees here back then, but it was all very unnatural.

  13. Lorna Hocking says:

    Hi, I have heard of some software called Itree (‘eye tree’ ) which has been developed in the states but has also been used in Petersfield, Hampshire, England. All the trees in an urban area are surveyed and given a financial value according to how much it benefits the locality through absorbing CO2, cooling, amenity value, taking pollutants out of the air, etc, the value of the tree then becomes measurable and therefore visible and it is then easier to argue why it should not be removed for example if the maintenance costs are high. It is possible to produce a report on the trees of an area to persuade authorities to look after them, retain them as the trees are seen as valuable. In Petersfield it was found that the town had less tree cover than average which then motivates the local authorities to plant more.

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