Expert on livable cities tells St. Louis trees should top the list

An international expert on livable cities told a St. Louis audience that more trees should top the list of ways to make the city even more vibrant and enjoyable to reside, visit and do business.

Opportunities for walking and biking, ample parks and community gathering spaces like coffee shops were other elements highlighted by Guillermo Penalosa, executive director of the nonprofit 8-80 Cities and a former parks and recreation commissioner for Bogota, Colombia.

According to David Hunn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Penasola stressed that focusing on these elements rather than per-capita income will help cities thrive. When a city has the amenities people want, the economic piece fall into place.

“We live in an ever more globalized world,” Penalosa said. “Quality of life is the most important tool of economic development.”

If St. Louis wants to retain its best-and-brightest, he said, it has to focus on quality of life.

The role of urban forests in increasing quality of life is well appreciated by the more than 3,400 Tree City USA communities and the people who call them home. When we think of our favorite shopping districts or residential blocks, they are often the places full of healthy, well-maintained trees – even if we don’t realize it at first.

Penasola is right. If we want strong economies in our cities, we need to make them more livable and inviting. And if we want boost livability, it starts with trees.

The photo above, courtesy of Washington Magazine, shows the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, a two-year Tree Campus USA.

Ohio’s College of Wooster “sets itself apart” through Tree Campus USA participation

Applications for 2012 Tree Campus USA designation will not be due for another few months, but some campuses are continuing to tout their participation as a mark of commitment to stewardship and service throughout the year.

The College of Wooster, a private liberal arts college located in Wayne County, Ohio, is one institution that marshaled time and resources into making an already beautiful urban forest into something even greater. The campus will celebrate its Tree Campus USA status as part of Homecoming Weekend starting tomorrow.

Director of Grounds Beau Mastrine has contributed greatly to improving the campus forest through “unique vision” and a hard-working staff, according to the Akron Beacon Journal:

“It’s another way that the College has set itself apart,” said Mastrine. “There are currently just eight schools in Ohio who have earned this designation. It is something that all of us can be proud of.”

We look forward to the continued participation of enthusiastic campuses like the College of Wooster – and welcoming new colleges and universities – as we continue to grow the program during this and future years.

San Francisco supervisor seeks hearing on tree care

San Francisco boosts a healthy tree canopy and strong support for new tree planting. But the city’s urban forest is at risk due to a recent policy change that shifts responsible for street tree care from the Department of Public Works to property owners.

It’s a policy Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the city’s eleven district-level representatives, hopes to address, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

There are currently close to 700,000 trees in San Francisco on public or private property; 110,000 of those are street trees that would be affected if the new policy is fully implemented. Because of budget cuts, city officials say they may only be able to prune those trees every 50 years, absent a new funding source.

As Supervisor Wiener points out, some property owners may be unwilling or lack the technical skills to take proper care of street trees, whose benefits are enjoyed broadly by the public. The Examiner quoted him as saying:

“We have hundreds of thousands of trees in the public realm in The City and it’s one of our greatest assets. It makes our city green, cleans our air and beautifies our streets. Yet, for a number of years, budget cuts have severely reduced DPW and Rec and Park’s urban forestry budget and their ability to maintain these trees.”

Declining resources for tree care is a problem facing cities across the country, even when local officials recognize the importance of investment in pruning and care. To fill the revenue hole, Wiener has suggested the potential for a small parcel tax, though a public hearing offers the opportunity for other solutions to be explored as well.

Photo is © Ingrid Taylar

Greening of Detroit singles out potential for urban trees to revitalize local ecosystem

The environment is playing a significant role in the resurgence of Detroit and Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of the nonprofit agency, Greening of Detroit, is a big part of the movement.

Greening’s mission statement has evolved over the years from specifically addressing replanting needs, to addressing the various needs of Detroit’s ecosystem.  The Greening of Detroit has filled several needs by creating planting and educational programs and encouraging environmental leadership and advocacy in the area.

In a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press, Witt explains that Greening’s forestry department has progressed to a green infrastructure department.  “Tree planting obviously is always going to be at the heart of what [this department] does,” stated Witt, “but they’re looking much more broadly at the ecosystem services that trees and forestry can provide, and they’re doing a lot of other things as well.”

Photo Credit: Greening of Detroit

The Greening of Detroit has broadened its methods from “classic tree planting,” to planting that will better utilize  the benefits of every tree; such as planting for stormwater retention and planting large, dense blocks of trees to remediate soil contamination.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a new campaign for Detroit to repurpose vacant parcels of land into urban farmland.  Rebecca Witt is enthusiastic and prepared for the Greening of Detroit to take on similar opportunities for securing Detroit’s ecosystem, asserting:

That’s a pretty incredible thing to be able to think of a major American city that really could have an ecosystem that could support itself and all of its people in a way that is sustainable for the long term.

Some potential plans for Detroit include planting oak trees and maybe fruit orchards.

The Arbor Day Foundation avidly promotes the intrinsic benefits of urban trees. The work going on in Detroit isolates the potential of urban trees to revitalize a struggling community and establish a sustainable industry.

The Arbor Day Foundation agrees with research that explains the benefits of trees for stormwater retention. Rain refreshes and nourishes green landscape.  But as cities grow and tree cover is lost, so is the absorbing effect of plant life and soil.  Trees and vegetated infrastructure prevent costly stormwater runoff from polluting waterways with oil, heavy metal particles and other harmful substances.

Click here for a visual depiction of a city water system with few trees, and one with abundant trees.

Nonprofits like the Greening of Detroit are making huge impact and filling the inherent need for effective urban forestry tree planting and environmental care in communities nationwide.

Relationship between trees and neighborhood affluence offers important lessons for local leaders

A U.S. Forest Service survey of the San Francisco Bay Area found that neighborhoods with robust communities trees are usually more economically prosperous than areas lacking in trees.

Trees are scant in lower-income West Oakland and plentiful in affluent Piedmont just four miles away, according to the San Jose Mercury News. A similar contrast is evident when comparing Palo Alto to East Palo Alto in the South Bay.

“If you have a tree-lined street, people are more likely to shop there,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “If you have a tree-lined street, property values go up. … The more trees we have, the cleaner the air.”

Tidwell, a good friend of the Foundation, was in the Bay Area in person last month to announce a grant worth $181,000 for the locally-based Urban Releaf, which has planted more than 10,000 trees in Oakland and Richmond and recruits young people to help.

The Mercury-News also cites the work of environmental writer Tim De Chant, whose use of satellite images present a stark portrait of what he calls “Income equality, as seen from space.”

Of course, planting trees is just the beginning. In order to survive, urban trees require continued maintenance and care, an area where resource-starved cities often fall short. This is a question of long-term priorities and investment that local decision-makers across the country must face. San Francisco’s decision to shift the responsibility for tree care to property owners is an example of a troubling step in the wrong direction, one which we hope will be halted as the economy continues to recover and municipalities reclaim some of their lost revenue base.

Image: USDA via Bay Area News Group

Nebraska and Iowa to continue funding recreational trails

UPDATE: All but two states have chosen to continue funding recreational trails, according to Streetsblog.

We’re a little bit late to this story, but thought it was worth mentioning that officials in Nebraska and Iowa have chosen to continue to funding recreational trails for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Why is this important? Two reasons: 1) Recreational space that allows people to enjoy time outdoors is crucial to the Foundation’s vision of green and livable communities; and 2) The new federal transportation law has shifted more discretion over trails funding to the states, so it’s a topic likely to come up in your area even if you don’t live in Nebraska or Iowa.

Lincoln, the home of Arbor Day Foundation headquarters, boosts an extensive and popular trail network that expands 128 miles into rural Lancaster County and a number of neighboring communities. It surely didn’t hurt that Lincoln is also the state capital, meaning key decision-makers in the Department of Roads and the Governor’s office have seen the value of the trails firsthand.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, bicycle enthusiasts in both states lobbied heavily to keep the funding from being diverted to other projects, which is now allowed under the new federal transportation law, MAP-21:

Rick Sanders, president of the 85-member Bellevue Bike Club, said he is grateful. Members of his club, as well as other bicyclers, had lobbied to retain the state programs, as well as federal funding.

“We’re probably one of the most fiscally conservative states in the Union,” Sanders said. “Having our governor step up for trails is good for the cause.”

According to the Great Plains Trails Network, every dollar spent on trails in Lincoln yields nearly $3 in medical savings due to healthier living. The trails also increase property values by up to 20 percent, a similar figure to the estimated increase associated with a robust tree canopy.

Photo courtesy of the Great Plains Trails Network.