(Original art by J.E. Hargate)
Does destroying 40 mature trees in the Cudell Commons Park urban neighborhood to make way for an elementary school constitute an assault on its residents?
The tree canopy helps to protect urban residents from the dangerous effects of the climate crisis. We know the tree canopy can lower ground level temperatures considerably, by as much or more than 10 degrees F.
We know the dangerous effects from the climate crisis preferentially target urban neighborhoods like Cudell, whose residents are in no position to endure the urban “heat-sink” effects of rising climate crisis temperatures, which are highly likely to get much worse. And we now know full well that the climate crisis is here.
So it makes no sense that the tree canopy in this park will be substantially reduced, especially in an area where residents and elementary school age children will recreate and seek shelter from the unreasonably hot days we know are ahead.
How is it that decisions were made to remove the protection those trees provide in Cudell Commons Park? Were those protections understood? If not, why not? Was the effect on residents of destroying the tree canopy understood and ignored or thought to be inconsequential? Would the same decisions have been made in any Cleveland neighborhood, or is Cudell somehow unique?
The thinking behind the decision is not just breathtakingly illogical, given the climate crisis, but appears to be driven primarily by concerns about construction cost. What about the cost to the quality of life of neighborhood residents, elementary school children and park users, given that these urban residents will preferentially suffer the dangerous effects of the climate crisis?
It indeed looks a lot like an assault on the Cudell neighborhood residents: removing protections they will desperately need to help withstand the dangerous effects of the climate crisis, and putting their health in more peril than it otherwise would be.
Yet this development project process and its predictably contentious outcome is very typical of the way property development is done in Cleveland and helps explain why the protective tree canopy here has been devastated, especially in disinvested neighborhoods, and why the project to restore the tree canopy is so far behind schedule.
This city just does not properly value its trees and their health benefits for neighborhood residents. Trees do require maintenance, and city budgets are constrained. And property development here is conceived, designed and accomplished with lowest possible cost as the primary driver, so resident needs and preferences tend to be given lip service, at best.
Destroying mature trees is the easy and least cost option for development, despite the many health benefits mature trees provide to the people that live, work and play near an urban green-space like Cudell Commons Park.
And, painfully, public engagement with transparency and detailed information comes so late in the development process, it’s hard or impossible for residents to have an impact on the project. One has to wonder if that’s intentional.
Because this development scenario repeats itself again and again throughout the city. Property development processes are opaque, inscrutable and impenetrable to the lay public. The processes are shrouded in mystery and secrecy, with the public invited in only occasionally to see conceptual pretty pictures and hear meaningless sales pitches and marketing flimflam.
Key decisions are made early in the process behind closed doors without effective public knowledge, understanding and input. Official meetings at the city are held when people have to work, and public comment is highly constrained. Then, at the 11th hour, the neighborhood gets a data dump about what is about to happen to it, and is asked for its opinion, which will have zero practical effect on the project.
Over and over the bureaucratically esoteric, development-centric, tone-deaf, top-down, inequitable process repeats itself. And when the community routinely reacts with outrage at the manner with which they have been disrespected, misled and ultimately bullied, development proponents react with indignation, attacking and blaming the neighborhood residents for being NIMBY’s, or for not paying attention, or not participating or not understanding the convoluted process whose effects they will be forced to live with in their neighborhood. Accuse the accuser. A very typical, reflexive and predictable bureaucratic misdirection used habitually by development project proponents in this city.
But that’s the way property development is done in Cleveland, and that’s exactly what has happened in the Cudell Commons Park planning to build an elementary school. The project as proposed will destroy 40 mature trees that protect the public, and the neighborhood’s residents are quite understandably pushing back.