Approval of urban farm in Detroit sparks controversy yet offers promise

In September I wrote about Detroit, Michigan, and a new campaign to repurpose vacant parcels of land into urban farmland and revitalize the local ecosystem.

According to the New York Times, entrepreneur John Hantz offered to purchase 140 acres of abandoned land in Detroit to clear the empty lots of debris and plant roughly 15,000 hardwood trees. Hantz and his colleagues have said their plans for the land will increase economic activity, raise property values and add to the city’s tax base.

Support for this method of repurposing some of Detroit’s vacant lots is mixed.  Many agree that urban farming would diversify the city and be a more beneficial use of the land space, which currently supports foreclosed homes and crumbling buildings.  But some residents and city officials view the transaction as a land grab that Hantz will use for his own benefit.

Nevertheless, on December 11, the Detroit City Council approved the sale of the land to Hantz in a 5-4 vote.

A website developed to detail Hantz’s proposal states his intentions to transform blight to beauty, convert abandoned properties to fields for new agricultural production, create jobs and strengthen the city’s budget.  Hantz has witnessed the deterioration of Detroit over the years and says he wants his farm to not only be used for agricultural production, but also as an open area the community can experience and appreciate.

Additionally, Hantz plans to plant trees and encourage neighbors to enjoy their beauty and learn about the importance of urban trees, including how they can be used as a sustainable and profitable resource.

Photo taken from City Farm, a successful urban farm located in Chicago

Although it remains to be seen how the land will be developed, community participation will be important for the overall success of this project.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture advocates that active involvement from area residents  in projects like these is key to building an empowered, successful and more satisfied community.

Through its Tree City USA and Tree Line USA programs, the Arbor Day Foundation understands the positive impact urban forestry has on cities worldwide and therefore sees the potential benefits Hantz’s urban farm can have in the community.  There is significant promise in Detroit’s effort to build a new, green economy.

Push for dedicated tree care funding in San Francisco continues

Securing a dedicated funding source for San Francisco’s street trees was the subject of a Huffington Post piece by Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose advocacy this year has helped to elevate the importance of properly managing urban forests.

The issue was also the subject of a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, “S.F. needs to take care of its trees,” last month.

In the Huffington Post, Wiener points to the city’s common-sense tradition of forestry professionals caring for city-planted trees and private citizens caring for trees on their own property. But the shift of responsibility for about two-thirds of San Francisco’s 105,000 street trees upended that healthy balance.

“Unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always survive budget cuts,” Wiener wrote, adding that the responsibility was shifted to homeowners even if they “didn’t plant the tree, didn’t want the tree, or didn’t have the resources, desire or knowledge to care for them adequately.”

Policies like these are indeed an unwise and short-sighted approach to budgeting. Trees are a part of a city’s public infrastructure, just like roads, sewers and bridges – and no would one propose to shift responsibility for those matters to a piecemeal, household-to-household system.

“This haphazard maintenance system — requiring people who lack the resources or desire to be the primary stewards of our street trees — is a not a blueprint for a healthy urban forest,” Wiener adds.

He’s right – and we hope more voices will join him in calling for sustained funding sources for our urban forests, both in city by the bay and throughout the country.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Urban Forest.

Northern California town explores voluntary tree care program

We have watched with great concern as a number of cities explore shifting responsibility for street tree care from professionals to homeowners.

It’s a shortsighted approach to budget cutting that deprives residents of the benefits of urban forests and ends up costing more later.

Fortunately, the issue – which often runs under the radar and off the front pages – has begun to receive the attention it deserves.

And, some cities are starting to look at creative alternatives. Rather than arbitrary staff reductions or indefinite shits in responsibility, what about some kind of voluntary hybrid?

That’s the approach being pursued by Chico (pictured above), a nature-filled and recreation-oriented Northern California town of 86,000 that is also home to one of the nation’s largest municipal parks.

According to the Chico Enterprise-Record, interested residents can receive a new maple or gingko tree free from the city in exchange for the promise to care for the newly-planted tree for at least three years. By empowering residents who want to participate, resources are freed up for the city’s more than 30,000 existing trees in need of pruning and care.

About two hundreds trees have been planted in the first two years of the program, city officials say.

It’s not a substitute for professional staff – and it remains unfortunate that Chico and cities throughout the country have endured so many layoffs – but it’s an option worth considering and perhaps emulating.

Real Christmas trees offer economical, environmental and social benefits

Christmas trees have had a long history in the United States, beginning in the 1800s when they were introduced by German settlers.

Since then, Christmas trees have become a major commercial industry. But, in recent years, more and more families are facing a dilemma between purchasing a real or artificial Christmas tree.

Photo Credit: ChooseAndCut.com

The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) approximates that nearly 25-30 million live Christmas trees are sold every year.  However, according to the Wall Street Journal, consumers will spend about $1 billion on artificial trees that primarily come from overseas.

Real Christmas trees, in comparison, are grown at Christmas tree farms in all 50 states, contributing not only to local state economies, but also helping keep family farms from being converted to other uses.

Many people are under the mistaken assumption that fake trees are more environmentally responsible than chopping down live trees, which is simply not the case.  According to NCTA, “Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead.”

Photo Credit: BellyAcresNJ.com

As the Arbor Day Foundation points out in its November-December newsletter, fresh cut Christmas trees are a renewable, recyclable and sustainable resource that sequesters carbon and helps clean the air while protecting soil and wildlife habitat.  For every Christmas tree harvested, NCTA says 1-3 new seedlings for the following spring are planted, estimating that presently there are close to 350 million real Christmas trees being grown at U.S. Christmas tree farms.

Photo Credit: KVBPR.com

Along with the many environmental and economical benefits, real Christmas trees also offer the social benefits of a memorable holiday tradition, introducing young children to nature, and encouraging family togetherness. Many Christmas tree farms even offer wagon rides, refreshments and other attractions to make the experience of selecting the perfect Christmas tree for your family unforgettable.

If you would like to find the Christmas tree farm closest to you, you can visit NCTA’s Tree Locator tool.

For more information about real Christmas trees such as selection, care, and recycling tips please visit NCTA’s website.