Urban Reconstruction: the living side of things
About the time I was helping start the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Oregon, another visionary soul by the name of Richard Seidman was looking around our community and noticing a trend as disturbing as the lack of walkers and cyclists: the disappearance of street trees in neighborhoods. Founded in the mid-1800s, Portland really started growing in the early 1900’s. In the late Victorian era, planting trees was part and parcel of urban design, and many exotic trees originated from the 1904 Lewis and Clark Exposition–a mini-World’s Fair of our own. The Victorians loved their Elms, Plane Trees and Lindens. (a little ironic if you think about it–Portland was known as Stumptown because the giant stumps of the Douglas Fir cut down to make way for European settlement were too big to remove!)
But by the late 20th century, many of these trees were dying or had been cut down and not replaced. Streets were being widened, too, displacing many trees. And newer neighborhoods were being built without sidewalks or planting strips so there was no place for the big street trees that graced the early avenues. With a vision of citizen leadership, some free time and a willingness to ask for help, Richard founded the Friends of Trees. Now in its 23rd planting season, FOT organizes volunteers in the whole Portland metropolitan region, including Vancouver, Washington as well as in Eugene, Oregon. The formula is simple: identify property owners who are missing trees, work with neighborhood associations and other community groups to round up volunteers, get wholesale prices on trees from local nurseries and inspire lots of volunteers to show up, get their hands dirty and make a difference in their community.
Last Saturday, I participated in my 10th or 15th planting. I’ve planted street trees in my neighborhood (and at my house), along the I-205 Freeway many times, where FOT is partnering with Metro, Oregon Department of Transportation, and neighborhood groups to create a linear urban forest for miles and miles, and I’ve also planted tiny seedlings in natural areas.
The 20+ years of planting is starting to show results. The Portland region is one of the few in the US that is actually increasing its urban tree canopy. And those trees planted by volunteers 20+ years ago? They are real trees now, making a difference in air quality, temperature, stormwater and beauty. Thanks, Richard!