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The greening of St. Louis.

The City of St. Louis is a metropolis awakening. Many people are aware of the city's rebirth from a sleepy river town to a vibrant urban center. Most credit the lifting of spirits that came after the completion of the Gateway Arch, the soaring riverfront symbol that has come to represent St. Louis as surely as the Washington Monument or the Eiffel Tower symbolize their respective cities. But few people know that the city of the Arch has recently taken giant steps toward becoming a leader in the movement to paint our cities green.

For years St. Louis-forthcoming host to the American Forestry Association and the Fourth Urban Forestry Conference on October 15-19- suffered losses among its trees. As in most large cities where nature's environments are often sorely tested, planting did not keep up with attrition. Part of the problem was simply neglect.

Among the factors contributing to the losses were too much pavement, dry and compacted soils, low soil fertility, and loss of American elms to disease. Prior to the 1950s, when the city passed ordinances to control coal smoke, excessive smoke compounded the problem. Efforts to counteract the effects of air pollution resulted in a selection of trees that are no longer considered suitable-even including the weedlike, smelly Ailanthus.

But enlightened urban forestry has lately found a true friend in St. Louis. In 1988 Mayor Vincent Schoemehl wheedled a whopping $5 million from the city's budget for planting trees. This was a much-needed and timely antidote. Yet, considering the many needs of the citizenry and constraints on the city finances, what convinced Schoemehl's administration to spend so much on trees?

The answer to that question is a story with two phases. First came a citywide inventory of all living trees and the losses in recent years. Then the findings-which also showed how replacing dead trees and adding others to the total would serve citizen needs-had to reach sympathetic ears at city hall.

The St. Louis Forestry Division prepared a detailed chart showing that total losses over the past 24 years had exceeded plantings by 30,189 trees. This in itself was enough to prove the value of the inventory. Then City Forester Gary Bess and his staff showed their chart to the mayor, presented the most probable reasons for the losses, explained the values of urban trees, and offered detailed plans for reversing the attrition. They made a convincing case.

What's more, the replanting project in St. Louis is in the true vein of Global ReLeaf, the American Forestry Association's new program to combat the greenhouse effect through urban and rural reforestation. Trees in cities assimilate carbon dioxide and thus reduce the buildup that feeds global warming. The mayor became better informed about how trees freshen the air, absorb street noise, serve as windbreaks, and provide cooling shade on hot summer days. To the benefit of his constituents, he realized that good urban forestry is a joining of people and trees. The $5 million was soon forthcoming.

All this, of course, involved a commitment by many workers to plant new and better trees. Recently, I was taken on a brief tour of St. Louis by Mark Grueber, a young and enthusiastic urban forester who plans treescapes for the city. What he showed me was a sampling of nearly 4,000 trees planted in 1988. Because seedlings and saplings are so vulnerable to the difficult urban environment, and also subject to vandalism, nearly all of the trees were in balled form and at least two inches in trunk diameter. They were planted in oversized pits and provided with a ready source of irrigation. This work in itself involved a major commitment of both labor and money.

Grueber explained that the tree species were selected for local hardiness and beauty and, in cases where space was restricted, for their anticipated limits of growth. Of the total, some 2,500 trees were designated for neighborhood projects-that is, set out with the help and cooperation of local residents and small businesses. On many streets that have soil strips available next to the curbs, St. Louisans have now rediscovered the value of the curbsides for growing shade trees. Along approximately 20 blocks of one particular street where old sidewalks seemed overly wide, 7.2 acres of concrete were ripped out by the city to provide planting and growing space.

The remaining 1,500 trees were used for replanting medians along several broad avenues. One of these, North Kingshighway, is rather special. Long a major north-south artery, Kingshighway was planted to American sycamores during the 1920s. Chosen for their resistance to coal smoke, the sycamores were intended as living memorials to fallen World War I heroes (including Joyce Kilmer, author of the classic poem, "Trees"). Today, though most of the sycamores have long since died and been removed, the few that do survive are sharing the Kingshighway median with sturdy, newly planted pin oaks.

The mayor and the people of St. Louis are intent on continuing recent gains in tree planting. Grueber told me that his office has identified 56 discrete neighborhoods, where cooperative efforts are to be pursued. Each will be inventoried for existing street trees and mapped for new or replacement plantings. Local citizen committees can then be recruited to work with the city in setting out the trees, caring for them, and sharing equally in the costs.

A comparable approach is already in the works for the city's 102 parks. As an example, Grueber showed me a plan for Sherman Park, an open tract of 22 acres devoted mostly to athletic fields. Plantings to include 154 trees of 19 species are to be sited around buildings, playing fields, and the park's borders. Here again, it is expected that neighborhood citizens and small businesses will share in the work and match the expense, dollar for dollar.

St. Louis is meanwhile doing its share to inspire the city's youth. Planting an Arbor Day tree can be a memorable, productive event for any impressionable youngster. Last April 7, some 730 schoolchildren, teachers, and city dignitaries gathered at Forest Park, a 1,293-acre greenspace in the heart of St. Louis, at the park's landmark jewel Box, a famed floral conservatory built in 1936. The assembled crowd joined in tree walks led by foresters and were entertained by Smokey the Bear and Spunky Squirrel. Then the Missouri Department of Conservation presented the children with thousands of trees to be planted under the supervision of their teachers. Similar Arbor Day events took place concurrently in most of the St. Louis suburbs.

My home state, with its many horizons to explore west of St. Louis, has recently promoted tourism with the slogan, "Wake Up to Missouri!" So it is with the region's promotion of urban forestry, which is certainly not restricted to the city of the Gateway Arch.

Missouri's Department of Conservation (MDC) offers its own forestry services within all the state's metropolitan areas. The MDC's urban forester for the greater St. Louis area, Warren "Skip" Kincaid, works with those interests that are outside the city's jurisdiction-primarily corporations and the citizens and governments of the suburbs. I spent a day with Kincaid, who showed me several state-of-the-art examples of urban forestry.

These success stories will be highlighted during tours sponsored by the Urban Forestry Conference in October. Contrasted by a difference in location, as well as planting space, are the Anheuser-Busch Brewery complex in downtown St. Louis and the Monsanto World Headquarters, corporate center of the Monsanto Chemical Company, out in the suburbs.

The Anheuser-Busch brewery encompasses several square blocks of Victorian and modern buildings, so densely packed that the grounds have proved a challenge in terms of growing trees. Nevertheless, the company's landscapers have shown that with careful planning, much can be done in limited spaces. Nearly 20 species of trees-including the London plane, weeping mulberry, linden, Washington hawthorn, and oriental ginkgo-are discreetly sited on the company streets and parking lots. Each tree is provided with subsurface irrigation and also drainage. Wherever possible, all are enhanced with surrounding flowerbeds.

The Monsanto Headquarters consists of some two dozen buildings scattered on 300 suburban acres. Virtually all of the spacious campus is landscaped. Exhibited are nearly 40 species of trees, some of them in linear plantings and others arranged in groves. Unlike the Anheuser-Busch complex, where space is limited and the flowerbeds are seasonally replanted to assure ample color throughout the growing season, Monsanto maintains many sizable plots of perennial flowers among the groves of trees. Some of the beds are planted entirely to wild types native to Missouri.

Yet another noteworthy model of urban forestry in the St. Louis suburbs is an office park known as Maryville Centre. The developers of the complex's ultramodern, high-rent office buildings are Andrew H. Baur and son Edward "Tee" Baur. Father and son plan their developments with attention to environmental concerns.

A few years ago, when the Baurs acquired a partly wooded tract of 100 acres for constructing Maryville Centre, they might have started as most developers do, by bulldozing off the vegetation to bare, erodible subsoil. Instead, the Baurs restricted construction to patches of already open land, thereby preserving what natural woods still existed. When they decided to construct a 10-acre lake, they were careful to select an open field and keep the native trees that bordered the field to serve as a wooded shoreline. Several of the office buildings were designed with one or more exits opening directly onto a paved woodland trail, appealingly available for lunch breaks and short business conferences among participants strolling in a natural setting. Parking is kept largely underground, leaving the open acreage available to be neatly landscaped with trees and flowerbeds.

For their commitment to creating corporate settings compatible with nature, the Baurs have twice received the Missouri governor's Town Treescape Award, in 1984 and again in 1988. Meanwhile, they continue to plan and build with environmental sensitivity, demonstrating that new development tracts need not be bulldozed into moonscapes.

The most ambitious urban forestry project ever undertaken in the St. Louis area was the landscaping of the area surrounding the Gateway Arch. The world-famous stainless-steel structure, which memorializes the Louisiana Purchase and subsequent opening of the American West, was designed by the late Eero Saarinen and soars 630 feet above the city's waterfront where it is easily visible from Forest Park, more than seven miles from the river.

The arch is surrounded by the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a National Park that covers 90 acres formerly occupied mostly by 19th-century brick buildings. After these were razed and the arch was completed in 1967, a massive landfilling job was undertaken to create gentle, easy-to-walk contours that were then covered with eight inches of fertile topsoil. Next, an underground irrigation system-the most extensive in Missouri-was installed with 9.5 miles of pipe and 900 sprinkler heads. Finally, planting was begun.

Rosehill white ash trees, 560 of them, were set out in the early 1970s to skirt each sidewalk leading to the arch. Later, after grass sod was well established, more than 20 additional species were introduced. Some of these-such as red oak, bur oak, sugar maple, and Kentucky coffeetree-had probably once grown locally as presettlement species. Others, ornamentals such as the Japanese pagoda, Washington hawthorn, saucer magnolia, and several varieties of crab apple, were added for their seasonal blossoming appeal. All told, some 2,600 trees now grace the grounds. I've watched them grow over the years, and been pleased to note how their expanding canopy shelters more people with every passing summer.

Thirty years ago, the St. Louis riverfront was nothing more than an enclave of deteriorating inner-city buildings. Now, along with the Gateway Arch, the levee boasts a greenscape with an appeal that goes beyond the magnificence of the monument. The trees are appreciated in themselves as a green haven from the hard, hot pavement of the modern city. Besides being enjoyed by tourists in all seasons, the landscaped grounds serve as a popular park for nearby office workers, walkers and joggers, and those who just want to watch the Mississippi roll by.

Large urban forestry projects, wherever they are, always set a good example. Nevertheless, the efforts of local community citizens can generate an even broader canopy of pleasant greenery. Often, the process begins with a catalyst-an event such as Arbor Day or an active neighborhood committee or the leadership of a single individual. One such example merits a final look.

In University City, a St. Louis suburb, a young City Forester named Norma Bonham noted that one local tree, a sugarberry, had been designated a Missouri state champion. Bonham instigated her own champion-tree program (fashioned after AFA's), hitched it to her local Arbor Day publicity, and thereby caused the people of University City to give special attention to all their neighborhood trees.

This suggests a timely paraphrase of Missouri's recent tourism motto: "Wake Up to Urban Forestry!"
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:urban forests
Author:Jackson, James P.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:2156
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