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Making our cities safe for trees.

Making Our Cities Safe For Trees

With its world-famous Gateway Arch standing sentinel over some 2,600 planted trees in bright autumn colors - all of them symbolizing the ideal of the Global ReLeaf [Trademark] campaign - St. Louis provided an ideal setting for the Fourth National Urban Forestry Conference. The mid-October event, also embracing the 114th Annual Meeting of the American Forestry Association, attracted a record attendance.

In the words of former AFA board member Virlis Fischer as he accepted the prestigious John Aston Warder Medal, "This conference is the largest gathering of AFA people I've ever seen."

There was a generous mix of sponsors, a wide diversity of exhibits, and participants from all corners of North America. Judging from the comments overheard by this writer, general and technical sessions were all well received. It was also clearly apparent to an observer wandering the halls and meeting rooms in the Clarion Hotel that this bright new science of urban forestry has got people fired up and focused in on making our cities greener and more livable.

At the opening general session, AFA President Richard Hollier welcomed the full-house crowd and then introduced U.S. Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, who solicited support for his bill (HR-2144) authorizing funds to get the U.S. Forest Service more involved in urban forestry. "I think it was Ghandi," Jontz mused, "who said, 'There go the people. I am their leader. I must hurry and catch up with them.'" Jontz listens to vocal citizen concern about the trees where we live, and believes his bell addresses that concern.

Since the Conference, the Jontz bill has moved quickly, passed along by a floor vote in the House. A companion Senate bill, introduced by Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, is ready to move through the same process.

Dr. Peter Raven, director of Missouri Botanical Gardens and home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, spoke eloquently about worldwide environmental problems. He said that the world's human population is increasing by 90 million per year, mostly in the tropics, and that this factor has become a major influence in the rapid destruction of tropical forests. The real problem, he noted, is of global proportions, and though tree planting by itself cannot reverse the atmospheric greenhouse effect and stop global warming, it should certainly help to slow the process.

One of the Conference's most captivating speakers was Tony Bouza, recently retired chief of the Minneapolis Police Department and model for Chief Carl Furillo of "Hill Street Blues" fame (see "Trees, Crime, and Tony Bouza," AMERICAN FORESTS, September/October 1989). A man of strong opinions, Bouza emphasized the social values of trees in helping to combat urban decadence and crime. Even a small and limited view of the natural world, he noted, grows increasingly important as more and more people grow up in the urban environment.

Bouza told of learning some of these concepts while serving as a captain for three police precints in the Harlem district of New York City. What he calls "my first experience in ecology" was his decision to have windows cut into a windowless precinct building where officers seemed irritable all the time. Among his accomplishments was having cops help kids plant trees, lead kids into cleaning up the littered banks of the Bronx River, and obtain organic mulch so residents could grow gardens in vacant lots.

Every good conference must devote some time to both the research and the how-to aspects of the subject at hand. So it was in St. Louis. One major area of discussion, in the same vein as Bouza's talk, dealt with the social and psychological values of urban trees.

On the research side, Roger Ulrich of Texas A & M University told of studies showing that the presence of street trees reduces stress and improves feelings of well-being in urbanites. Other studies indicate that surgery patients tend to heal faster if they can see trees outside their hospital windows.

On the how-to side, Chris Brown of the National Park Service explained how greenways with trees, shrubs, grass, and even wildlife can offer highly urbanized populations a modest but meaningful chance to renew acquaintances with nature.

Much attention was given to the nitty-gritty of planting urban trees and of maintaining healthy conditions for them. Among the specific topics: "A Worm's Eye View of Urban Soil" by Phil Craul of Syracuse University; "Tree Roots and Sidewalk Conflicts" by Phil Barker of the U.S. Forest Service; "Conditions for Plant Growth" by Tom Perry of Natural Systems Associates in North Carolina. Rick Henkel of Princeton (New Jersey) Nurseries, speaking with slides, offered an arboretum view of selected tree species best adapted for particular climates, soil conditions, and space limitations.

The final sessions, invoking a theme of Global ReLeaf (R) action, focused on efforts by various private groups to get more trees planted in our cities. Several of those projects are in what might be termed the germinating stage; others are well rooted in success.

AFA's national Global ReLeaf (R) campaign has generated a burgeoning number of local and statewide projects, each unique in its operating style. ReLeaf efforts for California, Mississippi, and Michigan; among others, were detailed. California ReLeaf is being coordinated by the Trust for Public Land, Mississippi ReLeaf by the state forestry organization, and the Michigan project by collective support from the Michigan Forest Park Association, the state forestry agency, and Detroit Edison.

One of the best nationally recognized citizen efforts is that of TreePeople of Los Angeles, a program that focuses on the city itself but also reaches out to promote trees and citizen action in places as far flung as Africa and Australia. The heart of TreePeople is its citizen volunteers, and the soul is the husband-and-wife team of Andy and Katie Lipkis. In an afternoon workshop, they stimulated our imagination with a high-tech interactive video simulating a flight over the Los Angeles basin. The laser-generated technology will allow communities to see how they look from above, with and without trees and other vegetation.

Sophisticated politicking by citizen activists has become an essential part of any successful community forestry program. Edith Makra from Chicago and Marcia Bansley from Atlanta teamed up to produce an excellent workshop on interacting effectively with government.

Then Isabel Wade of San Francisco and Kirk Brown and Donald Willeke of Minneapolis addressed fundraising for forestry projects. Finally, Dona Chambers of Texas, Andy Lipkis of California, and Nancy Wolf of New York showed how communities across the nation are organizing and mobilizing their citizens in support of city trees.

A sidebar accompanying this feature spotlights K.I.D.S., a unique private effort to mobilize children to plant urban trees on an international scale. After its guiding light, Nancy Joyce, a former elementary-school teacher, revealed her dreams on the Conference's last morning, they were further highlighted by a tree-planting ceremony on the Arch grounds.

It took place at high noon on a day when Indian summer yielded abruptly to scudding gray skies and temperatures down in the 30s. But if the weather was cold, the event was heartwarming. A huddle of brave onlookers watched grade-school children in the symbolic act of backfilling dirt around trees planted for the future.

Other Conference highlights are worth mentioning. Example: in the Clarion Hotel's main ballroom, a large crowd saw a videotape of Andy Lipkis being interviewed by Johnny Carson on the "Tonight" show. Andy explains the growing potential of a sapling three feet tall, which he is displaying. Johnny: "This will be a redwood tree?" "Oh," says Andy, "it's already a redwood." Roaring laughter and applause, and a deadpan look from Carson.

Additional vignettes: AFA's guru of urban forestry, Gary Moll, and a dozen other co-authors of AFA's brand-new book, Shading Our Cities, lined up to autograph copies; the lively reception for George Leonard, deputy chief of the Forest Service; Nancy Wolf telling how New York's Environmental Action Coalition symbolically "killed" Arbor Day in 1989 to persuade city officials that an urban forester was desperately needed (one was appointed a few days later).

The Conference's finale was a well-orchestrated event in the underground rotunda/museum beneath the Arch. No formal presentations, just good refreshments, a savory buffet, and plenty of good fellowship. These plus a stroll through the fascinating Museum of Westward Expansion and a ride to the top of the Arch for a spectacular view of the city below.

In the Conference's wrapup, AFA's Alan Comp called Global ReLeaf (R) a great umbrella of motivation for regreening the world. That campaign, the soaring Gateway Arch, and the energy of the dedicated people at this Conference are eloquent statements of hope for the cities of tomorrow.
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Author:Jackson, James P.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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