Cultivating a Tree Culture

Writing for PlaceMakers, Scott Doyon recently argued that among the seven highly useful keys to a stronger community is a commitment to a strong tree canopy. However, Doyon notes that many communities approach this issue the wrong way:

[…] communities concerned about their tree canopy deal with its preservation through ordinances that prevent tree removal. Not to say that such ordinances are categorically wrong, mind you. Just that, by focusing mostly on trees at the tail end of their lives — the ones that get the most notice and inspire the greatest affection — they steal attention from what should be the greater goal.

Doyon goes on to argue that preservation efforts are unnecessarily divisive. Instead, he suggests that communities should focus on replanting because replanting efforts add to the canopy and don’t drive a wedge between differing factions. Kaid Benfield also later pointed out that the focus shouldn’t be about preservation verses tree removal. Like Doyon, he emphasizes ongoing planting.

An emphasis on replanting trees helps cities evolve without battles over tree preservation.

These points are especially significant for a growing city like Provo because trees can sometimes provide indirect incentives to build sprawl; if no trees can be cut down the only place to build is in undeveloped land where there are either no trees or no tree preservationists. As I’ve recently advocated building more housing in Provo’s existing neighborhoods, for example, one of the most common objections I’ve heard is that doing so would require cutting down trees.

And it would.

But an ongoing emphasis on replanting — combined with gradual building — would mean ongoing replenishment of Provo’s significant tree canopy. That would open the door for more positive infill, along with more trees.

Cities that focus on replenishing their tree canopies will have the flexibility to handle growth — even if it means losing trees here and there.



Filed under community, tree

2 responses to “Cultivating a Tree Culture

  1. Thanks for taking this on, Jim. And great point about how tree preservation efforts can also, inadvertently, be a sprawl contributor.

    To clarify where I’m coming from, my point is that a community should not focus on tree preservation and consider their “tree saving” work complete. The real goal, the long-term goal, should be a shift in cultural values, from one based predominantly in ideological turf-protection and sentimentalism to one where trees, and the ongoing, perpetual planting of new trees, are valued and prioritized for all their legitimate, positive contributions to a community: aesthetic, economic, environmental and emotional.

    If stately old trees are key to your local character and no one’s bothered to plant a whole lot of new ones in the past 50-100 years, of course people are going to fight to save them. But we need to move beyond that. If tree planting and nurturing becomes an ingrained component of a local culture, the fate of one single tree stops being a divisive lightning rod for the community. It becomes what it should be: one influencing factor in rational decision making about growth.

  2. Thanks so much for reading and for the clarification!

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