Go Plant a Tree
If you’ve heard me speak or read any of my writings, you’re probably tired of this quote I use from Allan Jacobs, author of Great Streets:
“Given a limited budget, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees”
But I can’t help myself. I’m a firm believer not just in the importance of street trees, but more importantly in the simple, inexpensive methods we can take to improve our lives today. And in that regard, Jacobs is spot on.
I thought of this again during a tree-planting volunteer day here in Savannah.
Recently the Savannah Tree Foundation, behind the leadership of Karen Jenkins, organized the planting of about a dozen street trees in my neighborhood and the give-away of dozens more. Volunteers did the planting, a small grant from CSX facilitated the purchase of the trees, and the City helped with some utility location and coordination.
The effort was a success by all accounts, and you can see the results of the new trees on a couple of blocks.
Unfortunately what this effort underlines is just how rarely we do this, and by extension how low on the priority list we put these simple, inexpensive quality of life improvements.
Most of these trees will survive and grow to form a canopy over the sidewalk and the street.
Side note: it’s of critical importance to choose the RIGHT trees and put them in the RIGHT location. There are in fact wrong ways to go about this.
When they grow up they will provide much-needed shade in the summer (which encourages people to stay outside) cool the pavement (extending its life) and beauty for the residents and visitors. And, they do all this for a modest investment of a couple hundred bucks and some water.
It leads to an obvious set of questions, such as “Why aren’t we doing this sort of thing a thousand times over? Why doesn’t every city in America have a clear priority to plant and replant street trees in a proactive manner?”
Now, Savannah happens to be one city often known for its trees. The live oaks that grace the area provide a signature look and feel to our streets and squares. But even though the national landmark district is largely graced with beautiful trees, many streets throughout the city are either partially or completely lacking. In my own neighborhood, there are literally hundreds of locations needing a street tree. While our overall urban forest is good, it’s my feeling that good is not good enough. Why not shoot for excellent?
Volunteer efforts like the Tree Foundation’s planting are great – they bring people together, do some tangible good, and improve everyone’s lives. In the world of city planning and governing, I wish we’d place a higher priority on these types of improvements. The sad thing is, cities are eager to spend tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies for projects of dubious worth (such as big road projects and stadiums) while park and tree departments have their budgets constantly slashed.
We have the hardest time finding $10,000 to do something that will actually improve people’s daily lives, but no problem finding the money for studies for big projects that rarely deliver on their promises. The next time someone utters the phrase “make no small plans,” give them a shovel and a tell them to plant a tree.