Judging a City by its Trees
’Healthy trees, healthy communities’ is the maxim of Palo Alto, according to its city website. The website starts off: “The first thing you notice about Palo Alto? It's the trees.”
Palo Alto is clearly, and deservedly, proud of it’s old growth trees and magnificent urban canopy. On its website, you can read about their seven heritage trees and especially ‘El Palo Alto’ ('the tall tree'), a coastal redwood, 1,000 years (sic!) old, that the city is named for.
There is even a separate website, canopy.org, dedicated to the trees of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and neighboring communities. There are maps for guided walks where the trees are described, there are educational programs for school kids, there are city rules and regulations, there is advice for home owners, and lots of hommage paid to trees in general.
Like Palo Alto and Oakland, Newark’s city seal is the image of a tree (or so I’ve heard… but most people think the city seal is a a clover leaf).
Like most cities around, Palo Alto and Newark are "Tree Cities." There are some 3,400 communities designated as "Tree Cities" in the United States. You can see "arbor city USA" displayed on some of the Newark city vehicles.
To be a Tree City you need to have a Tree Board, a Tree Ordinance, a Tree Budget (spending at least $2/resident/year on trees); you need to organize an Arbor Day observance and proclamation, plant a tree or award a tree planter, and have an official Arbor Day. If you go above and beyond as a Tree City, you get a 'Growth Award'. On the website arborday.org, you can learn that the first Arbor Day was celebrated 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska when more than a million trees were planted.
According to our City Manager, John Becker, Newark has been a Tree City for 25 years. There are 18,000 city trees in Newark that are maintained at the cost of $225,000 per year.
This year there was a traditional tree planting outside of City Hall, before the city council meeting, on May 10. That was our Arbor Day. Palo Alto celebrated, their 100th Arbor Day 2012, with a 'fun-filled community festival, in Palo Alto's Sycamore-lined Mitchell Bowl Park' (see canopy.org).
According to our city maintenance supervisor, Sue Carey, City trees are pruned every eight years. If there are 'missing' trees on a street, residents can request a tree, but they have to commit to watering the newly planted trees.
Newark can’t compete with Palo Alto in lushness. 'Healthy trees, healthy communities’ can translate into ‘lush trees, affluent neighborhoods’ as far as the Bay Area goes. But investing in our trees, as well as in Newark's general appearance, is a smart thing to do for a City. You need to dress for success.
The symbolism of trees
From a Nordic perspective, trees are special.
Our ancient religion “Asatro” had a a special ash tree, “Yggdrasil, that contained the worlds of humans and gods. (Reminds me of the tree in 'Avatar'.)
On farms it was customary to have a “vårdträd” (‘care’ tree) which symbolized the health and happiness of the people that lived there. If the tree was healthy, the people were, too. You looked after tree because it was part of you.
Tree huggers and tree sitters like Julia Butterfly act from this connection and awe we can feel for a big, old living tree that have seen generations of humans go by. When old trees are sacrificed for roads, parking structures, and other human endeavors, it is a price we pay.
Tree species names are popular street names everywhere, even if there are no willows on "Willow," peach trees on "Peachtree," or cherries on "Cherry."
Tree names stand as a testament to what sometimes preceded someone coming in with bulldozers to put up tract homes, or some kind of wishful thinking. A bit depressing. There is nothing much left of the era when there where apricot orchards all over the East Bay.
Planting a tree though, is an expression of hope. For something that takes so long to reach its prime, you have to believe in the future when you dig your hole and put down a sapling, trying to imagine your tree 10, 20 years down the line.
This was on a notice posted on a tree, I happened to park next to in San Francisco:
“The Great French Marshall Lyantey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for a 100 years. The Marshall replied, 'In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!’
”Attributed to John F. Kennedy. Friends of the Urban Forest www.fuf.net
Really, who doesn't wish they had planted lots of trees yesterday!
Local trees in trouble
Not that I'm a tree expert, but from experience I know of two tree species in trouble in Newark and California in general:
The Myoporum is a flowering, shrub/tree. It has dark green shiny leaves on the outside and can form a mushroom like silhouette. Only the outside branches have leaves and the inside of the tree has a lot of dead twigs from old growth. It is quite common around Newark.
The Myoporum comes originally from Australia and now an Australian bug, a thrift, is catching up with it. (It affects only one type of Myoporum, the most common one, while other types of Myoporum are OK.) You can see the trees getting less and less green, as the new leaves get infected and curl up around the insect. Supposedly you can try pesticides and watering, but it sounds like a losing battle. We took down our front yard Myoporum half a year ago.
For more on the Myoporum here’s a link to a Chronicle article:www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/goldengategardener/article/Myoporum-thrips-can-be-controlled-with-chemicals-3244395.php
Another tree that is in trouble, is the reywood ash. The problem here is a fungus, Botryosphaeria stevensii, that cause branches to die back. (See UC Davis study:http://slosson.ucdavis.edu/newslettqers/Gordon_200428999.pdf).The study, based on observations 2002-2003 recommends that no more reywood ashes be planted in California until the problem is under control. Looking around, there still seems to be a problem, along a street with ashes, some trees can look very healty, some trees have a couple of dead branches, while others can have half the tree branches leafless.
The panacea of Trees
Walking the neighborhood with a dog, as I do, you learn which streets to take to to find a soothing canopy of trees, while some streets give little relief to the harsh summer sun. Everyone, I think, experiences a sense of calm under a tree, or amongst trees in the woods. City planners should take the tree planting part seriously. It makes a big difference to the ambiance and sense of well being of a place.
It's too bad that for some reason our schools (some kind of liability issue no doubt) are so devoid of trees. Lots of neglected lawns, too expensive to water and maintain, make the areas around schools look like wastelands. It must have an affect on the people who spend their days there, our kids and their teachers. I think the ‘Fruit Tree Planting Foundation’ (ftpf.org) has an interesting idea: planting fruit trees and making orchards at schools. They do projects all over, last year at a school in San Francisco. You can look at their website and see the result of their work. My children's preschool had a mulberry tree, and it was a great experience for the kids to feed the leaves to silkworms and marvel at the magic of metamorphosis. Every elementary school should come with a mulberry!
- Even if we are not aware of the particular species of trees around us, their presence or absence act upon us. We put police in our junior high and high school to take care of restless youth. Maybe we should also try planting a couple of trees and let the the trees work their magic on our kids.
- Maybe the City of Newark could have a site about our 18 000 trees, making us more aware of our trees and Arbor Day.
- Maybe the Patch could have a 'green' section dedicated to trees and plants in our cities. We could all put up pictures of stunning trees, interesting trees or point out problems with trees and plants. (Editor's note: You can always add them to the Newark Patch Pics & Clips photo gallery: http://newark.patch.com/pics)
- Maybe our next Arbor Day, we could come together and plant some trees around our schools.
"Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago." --- Warren Buffett