The Spring Of Our Discontent

Dallas urban forest canopy
You may have heard a rumor that the Dallas landscape and tree ordinance is about to come under review.  Of course, this rumor has been going for a good five years, but I think I can safely say the task is now finally in pre-production and getting ready to gear up for community discussion.  For many, it could not happen soon enough and has been needed for years. But I think, perhaps, the time in which we have waited will have been to a good service.  I believe time allows for opportunities for people to learn of new ideas, allows for people to put ideas together, and allows for unexpected alliances.

Before we open up into a conversation on this blog about the Article X (ten) ordinances, I think it may be wise to look beyond the scope of city regulation to help us identify our strengths and weaknesses, and to look into the book of players.  More importantly, I think we owe it to ourselves to define our objectives.  But to do this, we must understand our assets and our liabilities. What goals will we set and what exactly are we talking about when we talk about our trees, or our forests, or our land?  What is Dallas beyond the human equation and what really does matter?  What has value?  Should we define what value is?  You may not really be surprised how this word 'value' can be interpreted by different people.

People have been frustrated (I'm trying to be diplomatic) by the current tree ordinance for some time now and different people have different reasons.  I find each and every argument has a basis of merit, whether the complainant is a developer or private citizen, politician or small business owner, environmentalist or capitalist. We have to listen to each other in the coming months and find ways to connect.  Several people from different areas of interest have discussed this ordinance backwards and forwards for years now to seek understanding and consensus.  We have learned there are some places where there can be connections of understanding, but there will always be division elsewhere. We are individuals with different mindsets, and different cultural and moral perceptions. The challenge for a democracy is to find the balance and compromise that serves the entire community. But beyond looking at the negatives of an existing ordinance, we need to look at some of the positives that have helped us move forward in growth of our community for the past 20 years of this ordinance.  

For now, however, I want to begin to look at our forest infrastructure.  In the coming year, new research will be taken by others that will help us understand our urban forest (our community) in ways we haven't seen before.  We have a sprawling urban forest that originated in time with the expansion of human settlement across the Dallas territories as individual land owners - homeowners (namely, you) - planted the trees that help define and characterize your neighborhoods.  For us, the urban forest begins with your home and the trees on your land.  We will look at the other public lands, including the Great Trinity Forest which has been transformed over the past century as our agricultural uses settled down.  It is now a compromised sanctuary for wildlife, becoming revisited by our economic expansion.  How do we manage this? We need to understand more about the science beyond the beauty that surrounds us in our trees and the interrelationships between ourselves, the trees, the wildlife, and the air and water which nourishes us.  We need to comprehend the realities of how our urban forest is a vital living infrastructure which helps us to tolerate our existence (and others) in this city environment.  Trees help relieve crime and provide significant value to homes and neighborhoods.  How do we manage this forest for the long term while addressing our immediate needs?

As we start down the road with this new course for Dallas Trees, I want to help us identify our forest and to introduce ideas and science that can give us guidance.  We will discuss forest management for you as a land owner and for the community as a whole.  How do we become proactive in establishing a healthy forest instead of being reactive to its dangers? There are many things we can do in our communities today to improve our forest that do not require a tree ordinance.  Our success with our urban forest does not begin or end with regulation.  It is merely a tool to help us achieve objectives we must define.  We cannot define it without understanding it.  In the coming months, I want to help us learn more about our forest community, and in doing so, learn more about our places within it.  In understanding, we can grow a land ethic which can lead us to correct actions and not ruinous ones.  We will look at how to maintain a single tree through best management practices established by industry leaders, and help us in knowing how to project our tree forest cover for generations to come.

Our discontent is a symptom, in part, of something we do not yet fully understand.  Let's understand our forest, and our goals for that forest, before we regulate how to get to that end.


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