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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Conservation And Forest Quality Rises Above Our Minimum Standards

I'm preparing for the first full session of formal discussions into the City of Dallas' landscape and tree ordinance amendments.  In some ways, this seems it will be a daunting and formidable task that will lead me and my associates down a trail of exhaustion.  But I am all the more relieved that, after many years of frustration of a number of well-intended people who have debated and walked through this ordinance while waiting for official action, their long patience is being rewarded.  

People in both the general conservation and development communities have all recognized some flaws in the existing codes.  But it was from the earliest discussions of 2007 through 2010 where there were real serious efforts between those two general communities to find common ground.  For the most part, they were successful in agreement that conservation is not synonymous with preservation, and construction is not synonymous with destruction.  There is a place where the two historical and natural adversaries can meet - and so do people.  Conservation and development should equal sustainable development.  It cannot all just be one hand forsaking the other.  That kind of one-sided ultimate equation is disaster for the generational growth and survival of this city.  The purpose of the ordinance is not a myth.  A previous generation gave us a direction to build upon and it's up to the children to follow it. We can recognize that our urban forest grew over many decades, in great part, because of development and growth, and it can equally be our desire to retain and expand this great forest canopy by training ourselves to continue it through conservation and preservation initiatives.

The great effort now with the looming conversations is to help us all understand that a landscape ordinance only provides minimums.  These are basic zoning rules for development under permit. It defines parameters from which designers, engineers and builders must utilize to work above, below and within.  The rest is up to the human imagination to design and place life in little spaces intended for human habitation and transport. If they cannot work within this range, then there must be questions to ask.  Are the developers demanding too much of the city?  Is the city demanding too much of the developers?  In the end, we all have our perceptions about what our goals should be, and this must be set by the community itself.  How do we achieve a common understanding and agreement for a unified ordinance that makes everyone happy?  Well, it's not likely to happen, but it is most vital to the longevity and unity of our communities that we make the effort.

An ordinance does not define a green city.  It merely sets ground rules by which we apply law.  If the community of people working in this system cannot work above those minimum standards which we set in place through debate, then we have not really achieved the purpose of our ordinance in the first place.  Our goal should be to be better than our minimum abilities and to rise to the challenge of providing for a greater community with finer quality and efficiency in our product.  Our community deserves it.

Land conservation is a strong goal for a growing city.  Conservation must be on equal footing in our consciousness with development for that development to be sustainable.  In essence, the conservation of land and forest in a city of human inhabitants is all that can be fully expected of us.  We have long passed the point where human intervention is countered.  We can only answer with the wise and reasoned approach to our own expansion across this city to provide for a sustainable and thriving community that is not encumbered with its own 'too much.'  So, why can't land conservation be a tool for economic development?  We can be better selective in what we conserve, and preserve, as we continue to pursue growth.  Not everything in this city needs to be paved and inhabited, and not every parcel, or every tree, in the city is a candidate for preservation.  The unified goal of sustainable development requires more from us than just laying down the land and trees and wildlife for expansion.  It requires cooperation and compromise and thorough conservative planning before the engineering begins.  Land for growing can run together with land for conserving.

But, as we have just learned, our internal economy in Dallas is weakening as salaries decline and human poverty increases.  This cannot be good for the forest either. As we seek answers to rebuilding communities, restoring the healthy urban forest can be a catalyst to help with community unity and growth.  Building community is also restoring the entire community, including the trees, the wildlife, and the entirety of the various ecosystems.  Our quality of life, and the health of city inhabitants, who can less and less endure the harsh environment of this city, can demand the conservation of a quality forest.  We can recognize the weaknesses in the urban forest infrastructure and strengthen the urban forest where we reside.  We, as individual land owners and renters, are tree stewards, and managers of this urban forest.  We must better educate ourselves to proper care and attention to these sylvan giants who form our most formidable natural defense from our urban heat and pollution tempest. When we can determine to take hold of this mission, we may better build the Dallas for our future generations.  

It's time to grow as a community and find balanced approaches together.  We can look past divisions that separated our community in a previous generation. I hope we will find a better working environment in our future discussions so we can build the tools to help sustain our city environment throughout.  

But, at some point, we need to hold out a little trust that we are capable of something greater than our least efforts.  


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Long Journey

It was 2007 when I began writing in my blog I called Dallas Trees.  During the first few years, I was quite energized to produce numerous posts on various subjects.  I'd write pieces on the City of Dallas landscape and tree ordinance, and then I'd mix it up with a little opinion, show a few political discussions, romance on trees, dash out Leopold philosophy, throw out some social commentary, or harp on anything relevant that I felt needed revelation.

Somebody's got to go back and get a s*** load of dimes!

I had just become the chief arborist, and my interests were in promoting community forestry and sharing ideas on how we can build a better tree community in our little city that could.

Over time, my interest in the blog waned and I dedicated less and less time to the venture.  The posts became fewer and less impressive. Eventually, it just came to be a sounding board.  After all, I didn't have many readers.  I did have some positive responses from the few who did read, but nothing ever really drew enough attention to spar any discussion or debate.  I have to say, I sometimes wrote things that did not sit well with some people of influence.  When someone has to defend you for your right to write, then you have to decide if your freedoms are more important than your livelihood.  I didn't think I should have to make a choice. Perhaps I didn't, but I made one anyway.

Finally, a couple of years ago, I shut down the blog and I simply eradicated years of writing and thoughts from the internet.  I should have seen this coming.  As much as I learned to release myself in writing, I found myself editing my material to the point of being irrelevant.  I also learned, as a public official, I am limited by a little bastard inside my mind that also keeps me irrelevant.  There is a point where a free mind is chained by titles and bureaucracy. 

The older posts are gone.  I miss them somewhat, but I moved on to other things.  Actually, I moved on to nothing.  I'm not who I was eight years ago and much of my enthusiasm has gone.  But, I have kept this blog alive in hope that someday I will find my voice once again.  Perhaps today is the day....or a day....for finding my voice.  I know there are those who will encourage me and welcome me back.  Mostly, there will not be any notice of this little corner of the world.  But this is for me.  It is for you if you want to tag along for the ride.  Things have changed just slightly to the point where I feel my mind may be able to come alive again.  Perhaps I need to feel I can accomplish something important for more than just myself.  

What has changed?  This little ordinance that pretty much defines my career is being revisited and perhaps renewed.  One day soon it will be different, but we don't know how different.  Starting Thursday, I have to be alive and open and charging into the maelstrom of minds and debate, ideas and angst.  I am being challenged, and perhaps this is all any city arborist really needs.  

It's time for me to expose myself to the world again.  Landscapes and trees will be my focus for the coming months in ways I haven't let myself consider them for some time now.  I get to fend off lunacy and embrace reason.  I get to have an obsession again.  I am still alive.

The ordinance opens up Thursday.  Game on.

Text of my old writings can be found in this timeline.