Monthly Archives: July 2009

How does your forest grow?

A couple nights ago on BBC they had a piece about the urban forests of Rio de Janeiro (Tijuca and Pedra Branca). They are not what we normally mean by urban forest—a collection of all trees throughout a city. They are real forests, the kind where wild, endangered animals live and native plants grow wild and free. What’s interesting is that while they both are claimed to be the world’s largest, one is natural (having become incorporated into the city as it grew), and the other is entirely hand-planted, thanks to a very wise man who happened to be the mayor of Rio in the 19th century. The news story was about the pressure by middle class Brazilians to encroach and built their homes in the forest; it also mentioned the problem of foraging and raids into the forest by the poor population of the city. So the government is building a wall around it.

Another interesting fact I’ve been meaning to mention for some time is the European Greenbelt project. Again, this is not what you would typically think about when you hear the word “greenbelt”—a ring of land restricted for development, encircling a populated area. The European greenbelt is a ribbon of undeveloped land weaving across all of Europe from the Arctic Ocean to the Black See and the Mediterranean and consisting if every type of habitat imaginable—tundra, boreal and broadleaf forests, meadows and rivers. This not-so-accidental nature area has come into existence not by the conservation efforts of man but as a result of 40 years of iron curtain policies and enforcement of a buffer zone between Western and Eastern Europe. As a result of the restricted movement of people across this land (save border guards and Eastern European fugitives dashing across) the zone became a wildlife sanctuary of sorts, home to all kinds of endagered species, and a migratory bird route—probably the only man-made bird route in the world! When people noticed this, the Greenbelt idea was born (and I think, the phrase). Sadly, less than a decade later, it too is under pressures of development, suburban and agricultural alike. A wall alongside it though, as in Rio, would just be just too much of an irony (or something), I’m afraid.

Now these two bits have nothing to do with the fact that the Beltline is now officially city property and zoned as open space (thanks once again, Jean Sweeney!), other that it made me think that the Beltline is our own impromptu greenbelt, and that it could become our urban wild forest, if we so desire. It has been a de facto no man’s land the whole time legal wrangling was going on, and meanwhile it’s grown quite wild and unfamiliar, and I should add, littered. What animals dwell there, I don’t know, but birds are audible and insects are omnipresent. A stroll through the abandoned property is a trip of its own, and it does feel like you’ve stepped away somewhere. Last time I visited I was thinking how sorry I would be to see something tamed and manicured replace this impromptu wilderness, even shabby as it is; that while I would hope that some day it would once again be used as a train or light rail route, I would hate to see it all asphalted and sodded and lanscaped and sprinklered, and mowed by a gas-powered lawnmower. Rather, I’d like to see native plants and wild, tangled trees growing untamed and dirt paths that meander through, with small and tasteful benches here and there, where the adults can rest and listen to nature’s sounds while the kids explore the jungle on their own. Sound fun?

Speaking of growing a forest, another prime spot is Neptune Park, between Webster Street and Constitution, and the whole area along the approach to the Posey Tube, on the right. Right now, that’s all yellow grass and sickly trees. There is landscaping plan for part of that area, but it is oh so bland and boring, and requires ongoing maintenance and irrigation—a very silly thing indeed for a sliver of land nobody would actively use. Wouldn’t an oak forest be just the thing for this otherwise dead spot?

Drawing lines

So I found some more about the bike bridge path realignment project I wrote about the other day (this is at the Fernside end of the Harbor Bay bicycle bridge). When I went back there to meet with a guy from the city who had the scoop on it, someone had conveniently drawn pink lines on the ground to show exactly where the path should go. Here they are.

As you can plainly see, it’s only HALF the tree that’s in the way. That’s a real pity in my opinion. The main reason the man said the tree can’t stay is that there is a visibility issue because of it. The thing I tried to point out is that the visibility issue has pretty much been there for the past 20 years, yet no head-on bicycle collisions have been reported because of it. I mean, people are a lot more careful in real life than the liability experts will have you believe, I think that’s common knowledge. Yet the Liability Specter looms large every time someone undertakes even the tiniest project, and giant trees are felled like sticks because a line was drawn through them! I can totally see that pink line being drawn just a foot inward, putting the whole instead of half the tree behind it, and the whole issue disappears like that, easy. I even offered to redraw the line, but I think he thought I was joking. You know, planners are so serious about their lines. Got pink spray paint, anyone?

So after reflecting on this, I think I’m going to write to our Chief City Engineer, Barbara Hawkins, and see what she think about redrawing that line. I’m concerned that if this tree goes, the two behind it may become a problem soon too. When trees grow together in groves like this, they protect each other from the elements and each develops in relationship to the rest. Like your teeth, kind of. The one in the way of the path is the strongest of the tree, and the other two may not be able to withstand gusts of wind too well without it.

For the sake of fair reporting, I should say that the plan calls for the planting of five additional trees as part of the project. This is wonderful, of course, I just think we should try and retain the older trees too as long as they are healthy and thriving, and way can be devised around them.

Will be updated.

“Tree on the left!”

It’s not easy being a tree, that’s for sure. Not a city one, anyway. And it’s especially difficult if you find yourself in the wrong path realignment project, as this eucalyptus here (Fernside Blvd, base of bike bridge) suddenly does.

If you can’t read the removal notice on it from here, here it is up close:

It says, “This tree is being removed because it is part of the Public Works Capital Improvement project to re-align the path that goes under the bridge.”

I have a feeling this has to do with that hairpin turn coming off of the bike bridge and going under it. A while ago the city removed a dead Monterey pine from that general area where I assumed the turn would be enlarged and part of the dirt area paved. I thought that was a good idea. It didn’t occur to me that any of the remaining trees, especially the lush little grove of giant eucalyptus, would be asked to move also.

I surveyed the area as I snapped these pictures, and to be honest, I see no good reason why a turn needs to happen right over the spot where this old tree grows. Taking that wider turn off the bridge does currently take you into the dirt, but not straight into the grove—unless you are trying to take the turn with your eyes closed, which would be foolish in any circumstances. In other words, the tree isn’t in the way for a smooth turn to happen, which is the only reason I can imagine someone would want to take it out.

I left a message for Shilpa Patel, who is the contact on the notice, and haven’t heard back. Without knowing anything more about the plan for now, I will refrain from further comment. Meanwhile, “anyone can protest the removal” to Shilpa Patel,, by July 13.