Open Space Seattle:2100

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Urban Forest Master Plan

The big news today, splashed all over the front page of the PI, is the release of the Mayor's urban forest master plan. Huzzah to the Mayor for putting this front and center and to Steve Nicholas for speaking about the infrastructural qualities of trees in the city! We love it.

We also have some admittedly knee-jerk critiques of the plan, but we will read the 87 page report first before commenting--to you, dear reader, and to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

But in the meantime, sign up for your free tree!


  • Seattle's good intentions are not saving the City's trees. Seattle government has even adopted tree protection guidelines (Parks Policy 060-P5.6.1 June 1, 2001). But over and over mature trees are destroyed. Seattle needs a moratorium on destruction of healthy trees. All public actions should be evaluated for their impact on mature trees. This city has been responsible too many times – and dramatically in Occidental Park this year – for wholesale destruction of healthy mature trees.

    In light of the soon-to-be released draft Urban Forest Management Plan and the aspiration of this city to be counted among the greenest of the green it is time for public officials to set the standard for tree preservation, and be held at least as accountable as private citizens for tree destruction.

    · The Seattle Urban Forest Coalition, which drafted an Urban Forest Management Plan in closed meetings, is composed exclusively of city staffers. Although the plan's adoption is scheduled for September, it has not been presented to the citizenry. (A Power Point outline was presented to city council committee members June 13, 2006.)
    · This year 17 mature, healthy 35-year-old London Plane trees were destroyed in Occidental Park (citizens took legal action); City is spending $2.3 million to redevelop the park.
    · Eleven specimen-quality, 50-year-old Oak trees are scheduled for destruction in City Hall Park. The Parks Department asks to spend $3.4 million to reconstruct the park without these trees. Design is on the board though money has not been allocated.
    · The planned realignment of SR520 especially must be evaluated for its tree impacts,
    · And the Parks Department plans to destroy more trees: perhaps the city’s largest Weeping Willow, in Dahl Playfield; a mature, healthy cottonwood tree along the Burke Gilman trail; many mature trees to make way for the Zoo’s parking garage; Freeway Park and Denny Park "revitalizations".

    A city's Green credentials call for more than techno-talk. It doesn’t matter how “green” our buildings are if our city government is cutting down trees in public parks and rights-of-way. What makes Seattle green are our trees and with trees, it’s not the simple stem count that matters, it’s the mature canopy bringing life to the city. The goals in the draft Urban Forest Master Pan for a healthy “green” city are flawed, since they do not include as the first priority a measure of protection for what we already have. Our first goal should be, as it is in San Francisco's 2006 Urban Forest Plan, to "maintain and conserve the existing urban forest".

    The measure of canopy is the number of people it shelters; the measure of a city is the extent of the canopy that is allowed to grace it. Seattle’s average canopy cover is only 18 percent today, a loss of half the canopy measured in 1972. Forty percent is the average urban tree cover recommended by the American Forests conservation organization, which did a study of the Puget Sound region in 1998.

    Life thrives in the company of trees, under the canopy and in the canopy. It is the nature of trees to shelter, shade, cleanse and cool the air. A mature canopy: filters 60 to 70 times more pollution than a cluster of small trees; raises property values between 7 and 15 percent; reduces peak stormwater loads on our piped drainage system and absorbs stormwater to reduce erosion and landslides. Studies show that in an inner city neighborhood, the greener the community, the lower the crime rate.

    A contiguous canopy is a climate shield. The benefits of trees compound with their numbers. In order for canopy to do that work, to provide high performance, trees must be allowed to grow big—crowns touching, branches rubbing, leaves conversing. We want our trees to loom. Trees root us in the common ground of our lives and connect us to our past—the older the tree the stronger the attachment and the greater the benefits of all kinds.

    Since trees have a longevity far in excess of ours, we need stewardship that is trans-generational. We must create a city tree department headed by a city forester. We want not just a tree ethic but an arborist ethic. We want more arborists. We need more than greenwash. There must be a security force to protect our trees. The City offered the rationale for removal that the Occidental Park trees were unhealthy trees. “Hazardous” has been redefined in this city as an excuse to remove inconvenient trees.

    There are better ways to fund city parks and city trees than episodic levies. Seattle is named a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation because we spend $3/capita/annum to care for trees. In actuality City Light uses that $1.5 million to top/prune trees under power lines! In other municipalities, support for trees is tied to a tax on stormwater runoff, and stormwater utilities base their charges on a property's impervious area.

    To succeed with a master plan for trees in Seattle, we need a change in our attitude—on the part of the public and our elected leadership toward our trees.

    First, call a moratorium on cutting down trees to prevent further reduction of our urban forest, especially our contiguous canopy, while we institute more effective vigilance and care of our urban canopy. All city actions that affect mature trees need to be evaluated for their impacts, including upzoning by removing setbacks or watering down incentives for open space.

    · Hire a City forester whose primary mission is the cumulative treeness of Seattle.
    · Charge the City forester with development of best management practices for our existing trees.
    · Charge the City forester with conducting an inventory of every tree in the city, including those in the state’s right of way. Currently there is no record or catalog of removed city park trees or of the category of trees being removed or under consideration for removal by any city or state agency.
    · Charge the City forester to double Seattle’s canopy cover with trees chosen for their ability to contribute to a healthy urban environment and creation of canopy.
    · Charge the City forester with drafting a tree ordinance that has teeth.
    · Perhaps most important at this juncture, include citizens, including certified arborists, in the City’s process to develop an Urban Forest Management Plan, in the drafting and passage of a strong tree ordinance, and in the City’s arboreal decisions.

    To start this process we citizens suggest that the city hold an Urban Forest Stakeholders conference, modeled after the bringing together of Northgate Stakeholders, to create a win-win situation for the City.

    It is common knowledge that trees are the vital link in the health of the planet. It follows that the health of our city, our citizens is dependent on the health of our tree canopy.

    Seattle’s Urban Forest Stakeholders:
    Ilze Jones, AIA, FASLA, Principal, Jones & Jones
    Kit O'Neill, K. O'Neill Consulting
    Cheryl Trivison, Friends of Gas Works Park,
    Erin O’Connor, Roanoke Neighborhood Elms Fund, Friends of Roanoke Park
    Richard Haag, Professor Emeritus, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington, Principal, Richard Haag Associates
    Richard Ellison,
    John Barber, Seattle Parks and Open Space Advocates
    Michael Oxman, Certified Arborist

    By Blogger Ox, at 7:26 AM  

  • In response to Sunday's Neil Pierce column "High Point: Seattle's green community", I would strenuously disagree with his glowing portrait of the Seattle Housing Authority's (SHA) redevelopment of High Point. A better term for it would be"greenwashing".
    At High Point, SHA took down 716 units of desperately needed very low income public housing and ripped out relatively new infrastructure including perfectly good sidewalks, lights, and streets that had years of remaining useful life. Contrary to the image Mr. Pierce conjurs up of dilapidated WWII housing, the destroyed units had undergone numerous upgrades over the years and sat on solid concrete foundations. Most were duplexes organized around common courtyards where many residents had shared community gardens and grew their own produce. The housing authority replaced that with 1600 housing new units but only 366 are comparably priced public housing units. One hundred others serve special needs elderly. The rest are being offered to a higher class of people including units that will sell for more than $450,000-$500,000. While most of the low income folks are consigned to denser apartment buildings on the new site, the larger lower density and ground related housing will go to the more affluent. In all SHA will spend over $300 million in local, state, and federal housing dollars to "green" High Point - all to come out at the other end with fewer low income units needed in our city.

    Combined, SHA's 4 "HOPE VI projects" in Seattle (Highpoint, Rainier Vista, Roxbury Village, and Holly Park) will result in a loss of over 1000 public housing units desperately needed in our community. And don't buy SHA's claim they're replacing these units "off-site". Their so called off-site replacement units are being built almost entirely with funds from existing state, local and federal sources meaning the units would have been built anyway in the area. Existing finite dollars, instead of going to expand our low income housing stock, are being used for SHA's replacement units. They're just robbing Peter to pay Paul. These losses combined with runaway gentrification in our city due to market forces have driven thousands of working class and low income people out of our city and into the suburbs where they must commute (usually by car) longer and longer distances to and from work in Seattle (with all it's attendant environmental impacts on our region such as more gas consumption, auto, noise pollution, sprawl etc). I'd hardly call this consistent with truly "green" goals.

    Further, as was the case at Rainier Vista and Holly Park, don't believe SHA bull (or should I say compost) about tree preservation at High Point. Here are quotes from an Aug. 2003 story from the Seattle Times (Eskanazi) about their tree preservation plan at SHA's Rainier Vista redevelopment.

    In all, 198 of Rainier Vista's 428 trees are being preserved. Most of the survivors, however, line the perimeter....The Housing Authority is planning to plant 1,200 new trees within the new Rainier Vista, most along the streets. Within five years, the authority contends, the volume of trees — measured by total trunk diameter — will exceed what it was before construction began. "To them, I guess a sapling next to the street does what this does," said (Carolee) Colter, while standing under the shade of a mature silver-leaf maple that will face the ax. The Housing Authority hired an arborist in 2000 to assess the health and preservation value of Rainier Vista's trees. The arborist was a tough critic, dismissing all trees in the poplar-cottonwood family as a weak species not worthy of saving. "It's genocide for cottonwoods," Colter lamented. With only a few tall trees still standing within the newly flattened interior of the western side of Rainier Vista, the landscape looks stark — although it does back up against the copiously wooded Cheasty Greenbelt.

    SHA is doing exactly the same thing on the east side now of the Rainier Vista redevelopment. Note also that we still may have to re-engage a lawsuit of ours (joined by surrounding homeowners) in order to ensure that they - SHA - indeed fulfills their tree commitment at Rainier Vista. At High Point, they are wiping out all but 100 of 650 older trees - a graceful green covered canopy destroyed leaving only about 1/6th of the older growth most along the perimeter of the new development.

    All of it this was totally unnecessary. There were numerous alternative redevelopment schemes SHA could have employed at High Point - modernization/renovation, new construction or a combination of the two that could have integrated green techniques galore without wiping out most of the tree canopy, infrastructure, or destroying any low income housing..... No matter how you look at it, it's called "Greenwashing" gentrification, and "hype".

    - John V. Fox, coordinator for the Seattle Displacement Coalition 632-0668

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:56 AM  

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