Trees in Cities    Robert Leverett
   Aug 18, 2005 05:36 PDT 


    Good report. I certainly read it with interest, as I do all your
reports. However, I shudder when I think about measuring trees inside a
large city, and since its ascendency, Atlanta, the location of my
undergraduate alma mater, has absolutely no appeal for me. Thank God,
you documented the trees in Storza Woods for us.

    When I lived in Atlanta, in the early 1960s, it was a laid back
southern city with considerable charm. It was liveable. The tallest
structure was 31 stories and the next tallest 20. Both building were
built while I was at Georgia Tech. The Atlanta of the 1960s had an
openness to it. That was then. In the 1960s, the good citizens of
Atlanta dreamed of big city status, of becoming a Philadelphia, a
Boston, or a Cleveland. Well, they got their wish, but from my
perspective, at a heck of a price. Atlanta lost its soul, but it wasn't

    During the 1960s, Atlanta, Memphis, and Denver were all up and
coming modest-sized cities in the 350,000 to 450,000 population range.
Each had inspirations to achieve truly big city status. Today they are
all choked with traffic. Each is proud of its skyscrapers and upperclass
neighborhoods and ignore its endless suburban sprawl, and depressing
slums. Each floats on a lifeless sea of asphalt and concrete and dreams
of further growth.

    For me, it is hard to assess the value of tree-covered parks in
these three cities. No querstion that big trees inside city parks are
appreciated by a small percentage of local residents, but for most city
dwellers, trees in parks are merely a backdrop, green fixtures.

     I'm still trying to work up enthusiasm to visit Fairmout Park in


RE: Atlanta Trees    Lee E. Frelich
   Aug 18, 2005 08:50 PDT 


Good points about Atlanta. Its an example of what happens when people
mistakenly believe that a big city is a large collection of big buildings
and people. Actually, a big city is a tightly woven fabric of interactions
among people with many different interests and backgrounds, its a whole
bunch of small villages that happen to be concentrated in one area. The
social interactions among people aren't any different than in a small rural
village. If the buildings and other infrastructure aren't built in an
organic fashion to facilitate these layers of villages, then it becomes a
collection of buildings and people, which in government statistics may
still be a city, but is not a city functionally. The buildings can be big
or small, tall or short, ugly or beautiful, and in any of these cases it is
possible to build a functional or dysfunctional city, since its the context
of the buildings and how they relate to one another that determine the
function of a city.

Trees need to be part of the fabric of any big city (perhaps excepting
those cities in desert areas), as Atlanta is now discovering with their
recent program to increase tree cover. Trees in the big city are a valuable
part of the infrastructure, since they moderate the climate, air pollution,
heavy rainfall events, and increase property values. Here in Minneapolis,
we have a very high level of tree cover, and people coming in by plane
often remark how the downtown skyscrapers appear to rise right out of a
forest. As a result, our night time urban heat island is only 4-5 degrees
F, compared to up to 10 or 12 degrees in some other cities. I have a
feeling that with emerald ash borer, sudden oak death, Asian long-horned
beetle and other imported pests coming, and the frequency of derechos, its
going to be tough to maintain our urban forest in the next few decades, but
we have our basswoods, hackberries, and new disease resistant elms that are
popping up all over town. And, we can always use more cottonwood on city
streets, and extend the 'snow' season through the end of June.

RE: Atlanta Trees    Robert Leverett
   Aug 18, 2005 10:24 PDT 


   I am glad that Atlanta is seeing the light. About time.

   From a city planning perspective, how would you rate the cities you
visit, both here and abroad? From discussions we've had in the past, I
seem to recall that Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago are ahead of the
game in your experience.

RE: Atlanta Trees    Lee Frelich
   Aug 18, 2005 18:08 PDT 


Seattle, Minneapolis and Chicago have wildly successful inner cities, more
so than the often cited Portland OR. The same can be said of Vancouver BC,
Toronto,and Montreal. Good architecture, green roofs, lots of walking and
biking trails, and trees also seem to be correlated with their
success. Its hard to say whether these environmental features are the
cause of or result of their success.

There are a lot of cities like the ones you mentioned earlier, and San
Antonio, with its riverwalk, Kansas City, and Indianapolis, etc. The
problem in these cases is there is a small island which is made nice for
tourists, usually around the convention center, and the rest of the city is
different, so there is not much depth to the city.