Thursday, May 15, 2008

Urban Forestry

Here in Memphis, we do a lot of planning. Urban planner Jeff Speck even mentioned it in his recent talk at CBU. You have plenty of plans, he said, now you just need to implement some of them.

Just for a little perspective, I thought it might be fun to look at the History Channel's winning entries for their City of the Future contest. The regional winners are cities you might expect — Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco — but what's interesting is how the participants looked both to the past and to the future in designing their entries.

And that the designs were for the year 2108.

Atlanta won the overall competition with its "The City in the Forest" entry. It was explained thusly:

"The city maintains over 1,900 miles of pipes to collect, combine with wastewater, treat and pipe storm water downstream. Climate change, growth, and sprawling impervious surfaces continue to degrade this outmoded, costly system. ... In the City of the Future, stormwater resurfaces to flow naturally across the land. Freed from use, existing underground systems act as aquifiers, preserving scarce water for long term use.

This simple shift underground, in turn, transforms the landscape above. The rigidity of the urban grid yields to swaths of green and waterscapes. Settlements cluster along ridges and water catchments, participating in a sustainable, living system. Corridors of open spaces spread to link communities in an organic form and fully reclaim The City in the Forest."

Perhaps not coincidentally, there's been a lot of talk lately about cities and trees lately. You can't beat the impact — they improve air quality, make pedestrians feel safer, catch rainwater, help regulate temperature, and, oh, increase property values. What's not to like?

Accordingly, cities are trying to increase their tree canopy. New York city kicked off a 23-year, one-million tree initiative last fall. Boston and D.C. are also trying to add to their canopy. Speck said we weren't doing that great (planting trees was one of his moderate suggestions for making Memphis better) but we all know parts of the city that have beautiful canopies. It's just not citywide.

(We also have old-growth forest being clear cut, but you can go here for more about that.)

One thing we might remember is that, like all our little plans, trees take time to grow. If we want to see a change 20 years from now, we need to start now.

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