The Dallas landscape and tree ordinance seems to be on many minds these days. But I am cautious to not allow myself to be removed from an objective position where I cannot view the entire universe of topics. Some are guided by a single initiative while I must view the Dallas forest infrastructure holistically - inside and outside of ordinance. The list of forestry issues we need to consider beyond a tree ordinance is extensive which makes me very grateful Dallas also has a city forester. As I've indicated before, a city ordinance only gives you certain rules for certain standards and for certain conditions. It sets parameters for development, one lot at a time, and then you live up to them or you don't. The forest community is MUCH more complex than buildings and streets. Ordinances need to keep the perspective of the urban landscape for future generations, and not just be simplified for the instant gratification of a beautiful landscaped oasis during the ribbon cutting.
Landscaping and tree protection problems are often left as trivial in the scope of all other things related to development. Landscaping for many projects is the first thing to get squashed in a budget, and land and tree conservation is the last thing contemplated in design of the development. There are individuals who do see the whole picture (and if we're fortunate, it's the owner), but sometimes the development team may not fully understand the objective of any landscape application, or where it may fall short. Buildings and infrastructure age but are designed to not physically change in scale or function over the decades. Trees stymie engineers because they don't follow straight lines and they don't obey boundaries, in the air or underground. This is why large trees in landscape beds next to buildings is a bad idea. Trees are alive and need to thrive.
Landscape ordinances are designed primarily with the focus on new construction. The best of them may address some day to day management of the existing urban forest in general. But the ordinances are mere tools to establish a direction for development to be completed like a puzzle of a larger system that is in place to meet the purpose, or objectives, laid out for the city. These ordinance objectives are defined by the citizens, or more directly by their representatives. The Article X (10) ordinance has a purpose section where all but one of the listed objectives were created with the original landscape ordinance of 1986. Only one was initiated with the 1994 creation of the Tree Preservation, Removal, and Replacement regulations. The purposes are listed below. We can look to these objectives and ask if they meet all of our objectives today.
These objectives (or purpose) do not help us deal with the specifics for pro-active forest management. They do not set into motion an aggressive effort to locate specific forested areas and trees we desire to preserve from development and place them into preservation, or conservation, areas. The objectives do not help us regulate extremely poor tree maintenance and cutting practices which should be more regulated for the protection of the workers and the homeowners. Since there are standards nationally recognized by the professional tree services in how to conduct proper tree care, why would you not require these standards on your property, or on city property? These existing objectives do not help us provide better information on planting trees correctly or provide adequate planting space and soil volume in city streets. The objectives do not give us a tree inventory or direct us to forge a city-wide forest management plan. How do we manage trees in alleyways, and around public utilities, or navigate through conflicts with our neighbors over a shared tree? A tree dies on a vacated lot next to your home. How is this addressed? The sidewalk is buckling with the massive mature tree lifting slabs and pushing curbs. Must you remove the tree? There are answers to these problems but each situation is different and answers should be consistent. But they are not found in this ordinance.
The urban forest community has many stories and there needs to be direction for the citizens of how to address them. An ordinance will not provide all of these answers, but it can help establish parameters, benchmarks, and performance levels that everyone should follow, including - and especially - the City of Dallas. Should we also pursue a Urban Forest Management Plan for the city? This is an idea that has moved forward in many cities, including Austin, and will likely be discussed here for some time to come.
The door is open for discussion. It is a moment to be positive and to seek creative answers to help the city move forward and prosper.
Dallas Trees Library
The process of development with its alteration of the natural topography, vegetation, and creation of impervious cover can have a negative effect on the ecological balance of an area by causing increases in air temperatures and accelerating the processes of runoff, erosion, and sedimentation. The economic base of the city can and should be protected through the preservation and enhancement of the unique natural beauty, environment, and vegetative space in this area. Recognizing that the general objectives of this article are to promote and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, the city council further declares that this article is adopted for the following specific purposes:
(1) To aid in stabilizing the environment's ecological balance by contributing to the processes of air purification, oxygen regeneration, ground-water recharge, and storm water runoff retardation, while at the same time aiding in noise, glare, wind, and heat abatement.
(2) To provide visual buffering between land uses of differing character to alleviate the harshness of urban life.
(3) To enhance the beautification of the city.
(4) To safeguard and enhance property values and to protect public and private investment.
(5) To conserve energy.
(6) To provide habitat for wildlife.
(7) To encourage the preservation of large trees which, once removed, can be replaced only after generations.