Category Archives: Urban trees
Urban tree news: Pittsburgh’s master plan, San Francisco street trees on their own, and the eucalopalypse
There’s some big news about urban forestry coming out of Pittsburgh and San Francisco over the past two weeks.
- An organization called Tree Pittsburgh is at work on that city’s first ever Urban Forest Master Plan, and is now soliciting public input. Since a majority of the city’s trees are privately owned, public buy-in will critical.
- As of last week, San Francisco’s Department of Public Works is no longer responsible for the city’s 23,000 street trees. Their maintenance and upkeep costs are now up to local residents.
- And also in San Francisco, the long-simmering battle over the fate of the thousands of non-native, invasive eucalyptus trees is heating up. What’s a tree-hugger to do when entire regions become taken over by trees with low value for native wildlife species?
Thanks, by the way, to Georgia Silvera Seamans at the local ecologist blog for sending these (and many other recent links) my way.
Continuing with today’s theme of almost-fresh tree news from New York City, a friend sent me this link to a blog post from something called the BMW Guggenheim Lab about a poem trail through an old-growth forest in the New York Botanical Garden. I thought at first this might be hyperbole, but the Wikipedia bears it out: “Sightseers can easily spend a day admiring the serene cascade waterfall, wetlands and a 50-acre (20 ha) tract of original, old-growth New York forest, never logged, containing oaks, American beeches, cherry, birch, tulip and white ash trees — some more than two centuries old.”
Anyway, it seems that they recently finished refurbishing the trails through this tract, and asked artist Jon Cotner, the author of the piece, to “do something poetry-related on site” in conjuction with the Poetry Society of America. He wanted something that would actively engage visitors and lead them to pay closer attention to the forest around them.
So I “installed” 15 lines pulled from 2,500 years of poetry along a trail through the old-growth forest. Visitors spoke each line (printed on a handout) at specific locations (marked by small orange signs) to which the lines corresponded conceptually or physically. For example, near the start of the self-guided walk, people would recite Pythagoras’s maxim “The wind is blowing; adore the wind” to clear their heads. Or just as the Bronx River came into view, people would recite Gary Snyder’s verse “Under the trees/ under the clouds/ by the river” to grow closer to the landscape. At the final spot, above a waterfall, people said Ch’u Ch’uang’s “Waterfalls, with a sound/ Like rain” to sharpen the auditory sensation.
Walking Poem Forest took about 20 minutes. Several participants had long histories with the Garden. They felt surprised by how intimately they encountered a landscape that had seemed “familiar” or “known.” A bench near the waterfall became an informal classroom, where we discussed their experience. The overwhelming message was that the poetic lines encouraged everyone to slow down, to see and sense more clearly, to inhabit the present more deeply, and to fill with enchantment.
The post includes photos of each spot, evidently taken in November, paired with the corresponding quote. There’s also an audio compliation of visitors reading the lines. Pretty cool!
Gillian from treeaware blog visited New York City over the holidays, and has a stunning series of photos of trees decked out in lights, “turning the streets into fairyland.” She also takes a look around Central Park, and throws in a couple of photos from February 2011 when it was considerably more wintry to show the contrast. Go look.
Allen Bush is a brave man and a great writer: he risked the wrath of his Louisville, Kentucky neighbors by cutting down a big white ash in his front yard, then wrote a long and thoughtful essay for the Human Flower Project about his decision.
I have a better understanding, now, of why our white ash played a vital part in a larger landscape. I created more neighborhood anxiety than could any concerns with the looming emerald ash borer (EAB). Few, if any, have thought about the “functional extinction” of ashes. The projected threat means less today than the loss of the one ash tree I took down last month. In part, that’s because there is a communal hole; much of the loss is cumulative.
It’s been a rough few years for trees in Louisville. Winds and ice have devastated the city over the last three years. The remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through in September 2008, packing winds in excess of 65 mph that knocked-out power for a week and left scattered fallen limbs and trees in its wake. Convoys of out of state electric workers pitched camp in Louisville for weeks. Local arborists were flooded. Black market tree operators arrived from as far away as Florida. They filled-in, chopped-up, took cash, paid no local or state taxes and went home a month or two later.
They were back in late January 2009. The eerie sound of trees being torn apart by a burdensome half inch of ice lasted through the night. Limbs and age-old tree trunks, strained by more weight than they could carry, came crashing to the ground. The power went-out again for a week; the debris took weeks to clean up. Indigenous, native trees including oaks, hickories, black gums and ashes generally held-up better than river birches, lacebark elms and silver maples that took a pounding. Bradford pears and southern magnolias didn’t fare much better.
The true ash assassin, of course, is the emerald ash borer, but people can be proactive in creating more diverse plantings, too. Read the rest of Bush’s post to learn his prescriptions, which blend ecological realism with public-relations savvy.
The Human Flower Project, by the way, is a fascinating multi-author site, “an international newsgroup, photo album and discussion of humankind’s relationship with the floral world. We report on art, medicine, society, history, politics, religion, and commerce,” according to their About page. Check it out.
The UK blog Save Our Woods features a guest post from the chair of a tenant management organization (TMO) for a housing estate in London. George Arkless finds himself in the awkward position of having to advocate for tree removal, and reflects on the consequences of poor planning for urban trees.
Poor planning, in the residents’ view, means that the problems we now face are numerous, and while anyone from the council we have invited to look at the problems have agreed with us felling trees is such a sensitive matter that no one has been willing to put it in writing.
Just as there is delight when I get out of London and see trees in their true magnificence, or seeing a tree that is alive with life, or a tree so beautiful it just takes your breath away. Why should I need to leave the neighbourhood I live in to see such beauty around me?
An eye-opening post from European Trees makes it clear that leaf-blowers are far more than an auditory annoyance.
The threat from existing pathogens and non native invasive species, the threat from climate change factors and the stresses placed upon trees, particularly urban trees by way of human detritus, including domestic pet excrement or urine is compounded by the use of these machines.
Wow. Who knew?
Did you know that Manhattan’s Washington Square Park had its own blog? Me neither. But the Washington Square Park Blog appears to be a fine exemplar of “hyper-local citizen journalism,” at least by evidenced by a recent post about artist Kristin Jones’ plan for a tree-focused “artistic intervention” on Arbor Day 2013. One tree in each borough of NYC would be designated as the focus of a 24-hour multimedia extravanganza.
The tree she has her eye on for Manhattan is at Washington Square – the famous “Hangman’s Elm” (there seems to be dispute over whether it was actually used for hangings) in the NorthWest corner of the park. I did not realize that tree is 330 years old! Incredible.
Jones and her partner were responsible for “Metronome” – the unique clock (or “artwork/digital timepiece, intended as a modernist meditation on the dissolution of time”) that looms above Union Square on 14th Street.
Of the “Hangman’s Elm,” she says: “All these years this beautiful tree was right under my nose. It makes me angry that I never appreciated it until now.”
We have guerrilla gardeners here in London, but a group in San Francisco has taken the concept and made it more, well, fruitful.
The Guerrilla Grafters are on a mission to “undo civilisation one branch at a time” by grafting fruit bearing branches onto the non-fruit bearing fruit trees that line their city streets. The ultimate aim is “to turn city streets into food forests”.
The team has created a web app to help the city’s citizens find “graftable” trees, and offer instructions as to how to help the new branch take. The Guerrilla Grafters themselves are keeping tabs on how the grafts are doing; and whether the trees have borne any fruit.
Unfortunately, their website appears to be down at the moment.