"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." - Thoreau

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Right Frame of Mind



I've been struggling with a few demons the past few weeks regarding the Dallas urban forest, and trees in general.  Attempting to wrangle tree removal and protection issues is a complex task under the best conditions, but I feel I've been coming to gain more clarity of the challenges that are looming as we begin to consider possible code amendments.

Trees are living entities that share space within our communities.  But their importance, and value, to each of us is a matter of perspective, and how we deal with them can be contentious.  The point of an ordinance to protect trees, or to regulate them in any fashion, comes down to a sense of values, or maybe even an ethic, upon which a community resides.  What is your purpose for protecting a tree?  Or do we ask, what is your purpose in protecting any life other than a human one?   Ultimately, our decisions is more about ourselves than it is about the actual value of the tree to us.  It's also important to distinguish our self from ourselves.  Is the community going to be a gathering of selves, or are we going to be a self with many other selves just filling the space around us?  How we look at ourselves is also a critical test of how we will look to our urban trees.  

We are an ignorant lot when it comes to understanding our surrounding biological community of which we are a part.  Our city is not just an infrastructure of streets, homes, utilities and people.  It's also the infrastructure of trees and other vegetation, the animals, bacteria, insects, and all other living things that surround us, but also being the things upon which we place no financial value.   We walk blindly in - and over - an environment of vast richness we rarely allow ourselves to fully contemplate.

So, how do we initiate a conversation about this living infrastructure that is as important as any other part of the sustainable balance of elements within our community?   Do you know how a tree functions, or what it needs to survive?  Do you understand how each person who owns property in the city is a land steward - a manager - who helps protect and preserve the stability of the common whole?  Sure, everyone loves trees.  But is it only the existence of the tree that gives you shade and air, or do you respect its place in our society to give it a right to exist to full maturity and beyond?   In order to help us find our goals and ethic regarding our trees, and our entirety of a living urban forest, we need to be able to start answering some basic fundamental questions for ourselves.  Then we can enter the discussion on the fate of those trees in Dallas.

I will be looking to introduce the science and essence of our trees and how they are fundamental to the quality of life in our city.  I apparently have not done a good job of this up to now.  I need to help discuss how we need to manage our existing trees, remove the declining and dead ones, and help sustain our new ones.  Over the past century and a half, the Dallas urban forest grew from community efforts where people decided to bring trees with them, but also grew from a natural pioneering process where lands were left without management.  We need to learn to distinguish the trees, and also recognize their importance to sustaining the wildlife around us as well.  As these trees mature, many have aged to their conclusion.  We need to recognize when to remove them as practical matters for the protection of all.  There is much each of us need to learn and explore together.


The age of a tree is not all we must consider, but also look to the health and place of the tree in the environment.  We should regard the trees as living infrastructure for air and water quality, and even for their impact on us in crime prevention and peace of mind.  

As we look to new development and growth, we need to recognize in our sustainable and economic development plans where our trees of greatest value and importance to us need to be preserved, and also identify how we can better balance mature trees with new healthy landscaping in our living environments.  How can people, pavement, and mature tree canopies occupy the same spaces without any being heavily compromised?  We need to discuss the newer technologies, science and engineering of implementing best practices for development.  

Tree Space Design

As we look to new ideas, we have to recognize the impact to our natural community.  If a roadway is built along the Trinity River, will this force floodway mitigation by the removal of additional acres of woodland in the Trinity Forest to make way for new wetlands?  As we build south or east, will the community lose too much of its value and character to gains that are only economic?  What are we trading and for how long?   As we build infills in the city core, how do we adapt our walkways to provide trees that will be able to reach their mature potential?  As old neighborhoods are rebuilt one lot at a time, how do we retain the natural character and quality of life in these places by keeping many mature trees?   How do we maintain city utilities without interfering with growing trees?

It's easy to speak about ordinances.  It's a much greater challenge to navigate through the ethics on which we build that ordinance.  We have some soul searching to do.