“Love your neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
We first noticed when most of the big trees were gone. The old mobile home park had been located among some really giant old cottonwoods that provided shade, but undoubtedly created a hazard for the occupants in the flimsy structures below. Nonetheless, they had cohabited for many years, and the weathered sign proclaimed, “Big Tree Trailer Park.”
Now, only a few trees were left around the edge of the property and the rest of the site was scraped flat and empty except for a large earth mover and some mounds of disturbed dirt. Redevelopment had struck again.
An article by Marco Amati and Lauren Rickards in The Guardian noted, “At present, development for new housing tends to occur on greenfield sites where one of the first steps is to remove existing trees to enable the movement of building equipment and later cars.” So, our developers had mostly followed the accepted playbook — scrape the site clean and start over.
In places where trees are plentiful and, I suppose, if you’re going to build on all parts of a lot, clearing the site before development makes sense. Of course, you might need to level the site or excavate for foundations or basements, and vegetation will get taken out anyway. But not all development covers the whole lot.
Residual vegetation, whether trees, hedges or shrubs, provide a buffer against noise and heat buildup and contributes to other environmental benefits. Amati and Rickards describe how cities heat up, “As detailed in the well-understood ‘urban heat island’ effect, dense building materials like concrete take longer to heat up and cool down. Metals reflect heat back into city environments. Buildings block the wind and stop the city from cooling down. Vehicles and other machinery all produce heat, including the air-conditioning that many of us rely on to cool our internal retreats. All this means that in general the outdoor environment of a city is several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.”
Trees provide shade that helps to cool the surrounding area. All vegetation, particularly trees and hedges, provide benefits for air quality, water quality and as habitat for various animals and insects. It’s also pleasing to the eye and other senses. And hedges have the added benefit of creating a screen for privacy in urban areas.
Melissa Breyer states, “Unfortunately, hedges have generally been pulled down to make way for fences and walls; hard barriers that are often made with treated wood or plastic. They can also divide wildlife habitats and impede the flow of traffic for animals that may have traditionally crossed in the area.”
“Not only will a wildlife hedge provide habitat for birds, pollinators and others, but it also assumes the services that a regular fence would, like creating privacy, noise reduction, and defining the edge of a property. And for the lazy gardeners out there, it doesn’t take much work once it’s up and running.”
Amati and Rickards, again, noted, ”But trees take a long time to grow. They are also themselves vulnerable to heat and other climatic conditions, particularly in areas where urban development means the basics of good soil and water are hard to find. Besides tree planting and maintenance, therefore, protecting existing trees is paramount.”
A developer of an office park nearby started years ago by planting trees and shrubs on his property. He completed the development over multiple years, which allowed the vegetation to become established, improving the looks of the place. The taller more established trees and defined hedgerows made the development more desirable. In addition, as the park evolved, the early tenants were exposed to trees and shrubs, instead of scraped earth and desolation.
The Big Tree Trailer Park is gone, replaced by senior housing, and only a couple of the trees remain. I guess I shouldn’t complain, but I suspect that none of the residents seem to be as old as the trees that were removed.
Given the impacts of global warming and densification of our communities, it makes sense for us to be protective of our existing trees and to add new ones whenever we can. We may not see the benefits ourselves, but those who come after us will.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
~ Greek proverb
Marco Amati and Lauren Rickards, More Trees Are the Answer to Cool Down Our Cities, January 18, 2019, The Guardian
Melissa Breyer, Plant a Wildlife Hedge Instead of Building a Fence, August 29, 2018, TreeHugger Daily News