Community Renewal Should Include Tree Renewal

"If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude." - Colin Powell (stated in the Neighborhood Plus Plan presentation of February 2015).

The reports keep coming from various sources to throw light on the impacts of poverty to the quality of life and sustainability of Dallas.  In February, a report on Dallas poverty was a waking jolt to some, including myself.  Today, a news article by Brandon Formby for the Dallas Morning News brought attention to how transportation issues should be a focal point in how city officials and local planners need to strategize for the future of poor and blighted neighborhoods.

The Neighborhood Plus initiative presented to the Council in February is by official accounts a representation of a "change of our culture" at City Hall to find solutions to community problems. I am as happy as any person to be a part of a community-wide team for positive efforts in planning, designing, and managing solutions.  The effort and solutions will be a community-wide task.  

The Plan itself has the goal of fostering vital neighborhoods and it focuses on six key strategies for change:

  • Create a collective impact framework.  On this foundation, we take measured steps to:
  • Alleviate poverty.
  • Fight blight.
  • Attract and maintain the Middle Class.
  • Expand homeownership.
  • Enhance rental options.
Planners and foresters who have been researching the effects of urban forestry on social issues like poverty and crime recognize that neighborhood interaction with their local trees and landscapes can have a significant positive impact on that community.  It is my hope the improvements of these neighborhoods will not bring long-term sacrifices of substantial community trees for short term gains. In order to sustain our forest canopy, urban forest management should, in my mind, be part of the many tasks placed on the table in the collective impact framework.  It should not be lost in the shuffle of other social issues because of a perception of irrelevance.  It's a very wrong perception.



A national task force called the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC) stated that urban forestry is not a single issue, but rather a platform of many issues.  Correctly stated, urban forestry is a "platform that addresses numerous concerns, not a single issue that is divorced from all other factors that impact a community's well being." It should not be dumbed down to a cause for 'treehuggers' trying to save pretty trees. Any such emphasis is a denial of a greater issue and dismissal of a complex range of scientific research.  

Restoration and renewal from blight does not require the sacrifice of our natural resources but requires comprehensive managed approaches for long-range goals of community woodlands and 'open spaces' for decades to come. These trees are vital to any initiative we create. There are trees that must be removed while others are carefully managed.  New trees will be planted, but how and where must be determined.  But we must also recognize the other issues like utility vegetation management, and recognize the cost of tree management of declining trees for a single property owner can be difficult to address on their own.  Keeping juvenile and invasive trees down along fence lines can also help restore a positive image for a neighborhoods. But this takes managed efforts by someone. Solutions found through neighborhood and city communication should be sought.  Master plans for neighborhoods must include the maintenance and installation of green infrastructure as well as the maintenance and installation of grey infrastructure. Community woodland growth is at the root of this renewal.

Green Cities: Good Health  (Urban Forestry Research link)

We should consider fundamental issues such as crime prevention by forestry, very real forest benefits regarding neighborhood health, youth and urban nature experiences, community behavior (and habits) toward nature, and community interaction with nature stewardship.  We should consider the economic development benefits of our trees in restoring our neighborhoods, and utilizing green infrastructure to replace, or augment, grey infrastructure.

If we lose a considerable number of trees to new construction, the method for renewal needs to be established for the long-term replenishment of the local forest canopy, but the process should include the people in the community.  Our tree communities have been surviving on old habits and theories of planning and landscape architecture that have long been outdated and not serving the trees, or us, well.  We need to stop making the same mistakes in landscaping and follow goal-minded efforts in tree protection and replacement. Improving our neighborhoods for the future means consolidating sound forest science with open-minded urban planning.  Our engineering should also learn to incorporate green infrastructure.


Landscape and tree ordinances will not be the catalyst to neighborhood revitalization but can be useful tools for achieving a management end. Neighborhood master plans can guide communities to vibrant neighborhoods for decades to come when the neighbors learn of the value of their trees, invest their efforts and passion for their neighborhoods, and recognize that what we plant today will bear fruit for generations to come.  The trees can outlast us all.

Much like climate change, I can be ignored on these matters, but the science can not.  I suggest we look to the future and plan wisely.



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