Atlanta BeltLine links 45 neighborhoods, brings green space to residents

Cities around the country are finding creative ways to add and enhance recreational trails, a trend that helps bring the benefits of urban forestry to greater numbers of people.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national advocacy group, has long encouraged communities to convert abandoned rail lines into trail networks.

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That vision has come to life in an exciting way along the Atlanta BeltLine, as the New York Times notes today:

Until last year, the old railroad tracks that snaked through east Atlanta were derelict. Kudzu, broken bottles and plastic bags covered the rusting rails.

But these days, the two-mile corridor bustles with joggers, bikers and commuters. Along a trail lined with pine and sassafras trees, condos are under construction and a streetcar is planned.

The current Eastside Trail is one part of a larger project that will eventually span 22-miles and include new housing and transit.

The story of how the BeltLine got off the ground is an inspiring one – and a reminder that one person with a vision can have a lasting impact on policy. It started as a graduate thesis at Georgia Tech in 1999. But rather than gather dust – and many theses do – it was picked up by then-Councilmember Cathy Woolard, who brought artists, environmentalists, real estate and transit advocates together to champion the plan.

Overtime, the BeltLine will become even greener – volunteers planted more than 600 trees along the trail last October.

The long-term benefits will also be substantial, with enhanced opportunity to spend time outdoors in the clean air and connect to different parts of the city, some of which have been left behind by previous development efforts.

“Build it and they will come” is how the saying often goes. But, in this case, the space is already there. It is just being re-purposed in creative ways – and already serving as an inspiration for other communities.

Photo courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine.

Recycled Christmas trees give back to storm damaged shores

It is February and Valentine’s Day is looming, but the Christmas Spirit of Giving lives on along the shores of Long Beach, N.Y.

Volunteers arranged nearly 3,000 recycled Christmas trees donated by residents and the local Home Depot along the beach with the intended purpose of restoring the protective dunes that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Photo Credit: New York Times

Photo Credit: New York Times

Hurricane Sandy significantly affected the Long Beach locality by washing away about half a million cubic yards of sand, resulting in an elevation loss of three to five feet in some areas along the beach.  Many residents were left dangerously exposed and vulnerable to future storms.

The plan to place the trees in the dunes was proposed by Long Beach residents and approved by city officials. According to the New York Times, “the trees are supposed to catch sand blown by the wind, until gradually the dunes grow up around them.”

Volunteers positioned the trees with their tops facing toward the surf. Officials hope this placement will be the most optimal for catching sand blowing from all directions.

Naturally growing grasses usually prevent and anchor sand from blowing or washing away, but the significant loss of sand has stalled the growth of grass. The recycled Christmas trees will take the place of the lost grasses to encourage the revitalization of natural dunes and plant growth.

States prone to hurricanes, such as the Carolinas and Florida, have been using Christmas trees to restore dunes for years. Additional localities in New York and New Jersey are also recycling Christmas trees to reinforce beaches damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Damaged dunes take two to three years to become fully re-established.

Long Beach residents hope to establish a tradition of adding more recycled Christmas trees every year to keep building up the dunes that act as their first line of defense against inclement weather, and they’re off to a great start.

We hope Long Beach and communities like it continue to heal and be a shining example of the impact and importance of recycling.

Recycling real Christmas trees gives back to the earth all year-round

A previous blog post  emphasized the environmental, economical and social benefits of purchasing a real Christmas tree over an artificial one.

Photo Credit: Cross Timbers Gazette

As the season comes to a close, we thought we would highlight some environmentally friendly ways to dispose of real Christmas trees and give back to the earth.

It is important to recycle real Christmas trees because they contain valuable nutrients that can be used in other capacities like compost or mulch.

According to Earth911, a website that specializes in providing consumers recycling information, some of the main uses for post-harvest, recycled trees include the following:

  • Chipping (used for various things, from mulch to hiking trails)
  • Beachfront erosion prevention and river delta sedimentation management
  • Lake and river shoreline stabilization including fish habitat

The methods for recycling a real Christmas tree can vary depending on where you live, so it is important to be knowledgeable of your community’s tree recycling processes and rules.

Photo Credit:
Richmond District

The three most common options available for recycling your Christmas tree are curbside pick-up, drop-off programs and do-it yourself projects.

The most convenient (but not always available) option is curbside pick-up. In neighborhoods where this method is offered, it is important that Christmas tree owners follow neighborhood guidelines to ensure that their tree does not get picked up with the regular trash collection and end up in a landfill.

Photo Credit:
Record-Courier

Drop-off programs are only available for a limited time after the holidays but offer a one stop solution for tree recycling needs. Real Christmas trees can be dropped off at specified collection sites as long as they are completely free of all decorations. It is important to note that trees that have been flocked with fake snow are usually not eligible for recycling programs.

Finally, there is always the do-it-yourself option. Live Christmas trees can be chopped into firewood or used for home projects and crafts. For some households, they can be used as natural water habitats when placed in a pond or body of water.

You can visit Earth911’s database to find the Christmas tree recycling solution closest to you.

Looking back and looking forward in urban forestry

The Arbor Day Foundation was launched in 1972 during the tree-planting holiday’s centennial year. Much has happened in the 40 years since, and much work remains.

We have seen great progress, for example, in the spread of effective urban forest management. For many years, tree care at the municipal level was haphazard to non-existent. The standards and recognition of the Tree City USA program has helped to change that, due in large part to the partnership of the U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters.

The increased attention to urban trees care was alive at this year’s Partners in Community Forestry Conference, where a number of panelists pointed to street trees as central to creating great cities where people want to live.

In Richmond, California, and Baltimore, Maryland, and Camden, New Jersey, the beauty of newly-planted trees and community pride they inspire has strengthened neighborhoods and begun to put a dent in crime. Experts in planning and design say trees help attract new residents and commercial development. Trees are also central to the fight against climate change, with some communities finding innovative ways to include trees in cap-and-trade programs.

But urban forestry has also suffered from some setbacks. Heavy drought during the past two summers have killed or severely damaged millions of trees, with the U.S. Forest Service estimating that urban tree cover has been declining by 0.9 percent annually. Major storms have presented challenges for communities that contain both mature trees and above-ground power lines. And, declining resources have led some cities to pursue misguided policies that would transfer the responsibility for street trees from professionals to individual homeowners.

Solutions exist to all of these challenges, but they require continued management and resources. The Foundation will continue to advocate for both.

But some creativity may also be required. For example, rather than shifting tree care responsibility to people who not seek it, cities could follow the example of Chico, California, in pursuing voluntary tree care partnerships. With a declining tax base and abandoned neighborhoods, Detroit leaders opted for a controversial land purchase to allow for urban farming, an approach that has already found success in Chicago, Newark and elsewhere.

We look forward to your continued support and partnership as we continue to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees – both in our nation’s cities and throughout the country.

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.

Tree culture makes the list for keys to stronger community

Numbering things has indeed become a tradition – some would say an overused one – in nonfiction writing, as Kaid Benfield points out, but it’s the content of said lists that should catch our attention rather their numeric ordering.

Writing for the Atlantic Cities, Benfield made note of a list – yes, a numbered one – produced by Scott Doyon, a principal at a respected planning firm, that surveyed the “seven keys to stronger community.”

While some scoff at the advice of planners and developers, they know what they’re talking about when it comes to what makes an area desirable.

One of Doyon’s items is parks and gardens. “For compact, walkable communities to thrive, they need contrast,” he wrote. “They need the intensity of human settlement to be offset by areas for recharge — both environmental and emotional.”

It’s an important point, and one more and more Americans are making by voting with their feet – they want to live in a community where the green balances out the gray.

Urban forestry is often lumped together with parks in discussions about community development, even though they sometimes meet different needs. Doyon, however, identifies tree culture as an item onto itself. His message: strong communities pursue the dual goals of protecting existing canopy while planting anew. A culture of trees also brings neighbors together and forms meaningful partnerships.

Benfield likes the list – though he would put trees and parks in the same category. He also made note of pushback from a reader who thought “good urbanism” was more important than green space.

From our perspective, it’s hard to picture any definition of positive urban development that doesn’t include a prominent role for parks and tree canopy. To be sure, other elements such as mixed-use development, transit options and proximity to jobs do a lot to bring people together and strengthen community. But to fully realize the benefits of new development – particularly, more dense projects in cities – trees cannot be dismissed.

Students plant trees at a Tree City Campus USA event at Georgia State University in Atlanta earlier this month.

At Partners in Community Forestry Conference, trees seen as central to great cities

Last week, I joined a number of my colleagues in attending the 2012 Partners in Community Forestry Conference in Sacramento, California.

The Foundation sponsors the now-annual gathering, which gives urban forestry professionals from around the country the chance to reconnect with peers and share best practices.

Increasingly, community trees and how we care for them are seen as integral to effective growth and development and improved quality-of-life in our nation’s cities.

California, with 95 percent of its population in urban areas, is at the forefront of that discussion, due in part to two recent state laws.

The first, AB 32, requires California to develop a plan for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The second, SB 375, asks communities to build housing and transportation system in ways that further those emission reduction goals. Growing and maintaining tree-rich neighborhoods is part of how these laws will be implemented.

“It’s sort of a one-two punch going on there,” said presenter Connie Gallippi, senior policy consultant for the Sacramento-based Conservation Strategy Group. “I think we’ll see a good deal of funding come into urban forestry from this.”

I had a chance to see these opportunities during a walking tour of two of Sacramento’s neighbors: Davis and West Sacramento. Though reduced to one full-time city forester, Davis has a robust and healthy tree canopy and an involved citizenry. West Sacramento got a later start, but is in the midst of a number of innovative projects, including planting along major thoroughfares and in medians to enhance commercial districts and improve storm water management.

But whether it’s the shading of our homes, cleaner air, vibrant main streets or improved health – none of these benefits will reach their potential unless they are communicated to a broader audience.

“We’re good at putting our programs together and being successful and really poor at telling our story,” said Ray Tretheway, executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation. (He’s also a past Sacramento City Council member and Arbor Day Award winner).

The tie-in to regional planning and great cities almost writes itself, if only urban forestry advocates make their stories known to the right people.

Despite tough financial times, “money still follows great ideas and the people behind them,” said panelist Craig McMurray, managing director of corporate development for Capital Public Radio.

That summarizes the sentiment of the conference well: big challenges, coupled with enormous opportunity.

Participants compare notes during general session.

All photos courtesy of Karina Helm of the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tree-planting in Richmond improves public safety through beautification

Trees are being planted in Richmond, California faster than landscape architects can track, count, and map to assess the city’s further arbor needs.

Photo Credit: Richmond Confidential

Over the past month alone, scores of volunteers have come together to plant more than one hundred trees in Richmond soil.

In exchange for learning proper planting practices and weekly watering efforts, the Richmond community is rewarded with shade, increased property value, reduced pollution, slowing traffic, and lower crime.

For a community that has struggled with crime over the years, these benefits are significant. In a recent news article, Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus commended young volunteers for improving community and neighborhood safety through beautification. Magnus advocates:

An attractive neighborhood enhanced by the natural beauty of trees sends a message that the people who live there care and are engaged with what’s going on around them. This helps decrease crime and improves safety for all residents.

Research has linked increased tree-planting to decreased crime rates in other communities as well. Baltimore, Md., experienced a 12 percent drop in crime after a ten percent tree canopy increase and neighborhoods in Camden, N.J., are now considered highly desirable places to live thanks to newly-planted trees.

Photo Credit: Richmond Confidential

The benefits of tree planting extend from a broad environmental level to a personal, human level as well. Richmond volunteers express a sense of pride and ownership seeing trees in the community that exist thanks to their planting efforts. A student volunteer described the satisfaction of walking past trees she planted at a local high school as, “I did that, that’s my tree.”

Richmond Parks and Recreation officials honor volunteers for their individual roles as “guardian of the forest,” encouraging them to cherish the positive impact each person’s efforts has on the city of Richmond.

After receiving a $10,000 grant over the summer, tree-planting groups and volunteers in Richmond are continuing to positively change the future of the city, improving the social and environmental state of the community by planting trees.

Op-ed pages sound the alarm on proposals to downplay tree care professionals

Facing tight budgets and reduced staff, a number of cities around the country have either floated or are already moving forward with troubling proposals to shift the responsibility for tree care from professionals to homeowners.

By downplaying the numerous benefits of urban trees and putting their care in uncertain hands, these ideas are the textbook definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish. Even responsible homeowners willing and able to do the right thing lack the bargaining power and strategic decision-making ability that is only possible through a comprehensive, citywide approach.

The Foundation’s home here in Lincoln is one community where this is being considered, prompting founder and chief executive John Rosenow to submit this op-ed to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Confronting similar challenges, the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in with a Saturday editorial imploring city leaders to find the money to take care of street trees and criticizing the decision to shift responsibility for 1,200 trees to homeowners:

This policy requires homeowners to maintain trees they didn’t plant, might not even want, possibly can’t afford and probably don’t know how to care for.

The result could spell disaster for the city’s forest. Already, around 4 percent of our trees die every year because of age or lack of proper attention. The city employs only six arborists, down from 19 four years ago. That’s fewer than one trained worker for every 17,000 trees.

The Chronicle also surveyed several ideas for new revenue.

In Sunday’s Journal Star, Rosenow pointed to the Foundation’s experience growing the Tree City USA program into more than 3,400 communities over 36 years. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. He also noted that Lincoln’s experience serves as direct evidence of the need for a professional approach:

A well-staffed professional forestry team was crucial to protecting tree canopy and minimizing property damage during Lincoln’s early-fall snow storm in 1997. Other cities sustained much greater damage by banking on a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach that downplayed the importance of professionals — and the damage remains visible today.

Civic and business leaders in Lincoln have recently stepped up marketing toward young professionals and employers. Rosenow concluded:

Increasingly, jobs and the companies and professionals who create jobs are highly mobile. The successful cities of the future will be those who recruit and retain the best jobs by creating an outstanding quality of life for its citizens — including a well-managed urban forest. We would hope that Lincoln will be such a city.

We’re pleased to see the issue of tree care – often lost in budget discussions, as San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener and others have pointed out – begin to receive the attention it deserves. We look forward to being part of the continued discussion, both here at home and throughout the country.