It’s Time to Make Cleveland “The Forest City” Again

I wrote a very tightly scripted letter to the local paper recently about the shrinking tree canopy in Cleveland. I kept it short and not too edgy because I wanted them to publish it, and I’m grateful they did.

In their on-line news service, they published exactly what I submitted. In their e-paper and print edition, they trimmed the letter down quite a bit; not changing the intent but removing several points I felt were important. It’s what happens in publishing letters from readers. Not a big deal.

That said, I’m expanding my thoughts here on the same subject, using that letter as the basis but extrapolating with a little more latitude on the issue, just because I can and it’s an issue that aggravates me no end.

Here’s the opener I used in the letter: “Cleveland’s new mayor must make rebuilding the city’s tree canopy a high and urgent priority.”

What I didn’t say is that my wife and I vigorously support the candidate for mayor we are highly confident will actually do what needs done with the tree canopy and other projects critical to the people in the neighborhoods and will stop the incessant dinking around we have experienced with projects like this in this city. Justin Bibb will get critical projects like this one done.

The city has had a plan to build up its tree canopy, but since it was announced a few short years ago we still have lost ground. The mayor has thrown a million dollars a year at it, which is not a ton of money when you think about how easily he will throw more than a hundred million dollars at a billionaire professional sports team owner holding the city hostage and threatening to move the team away.

Rebuilding the tree canopy then has indeed been a thing, but not that big a thing. Doing things that directly help people in the neighborhoods hasn’t been such a high priority for the current mayor.

So the current efforts on the tree canopy, while admirable, have been lazy in their timing and just insufficient, and the city’s budget for this project has been inadequate. We continue to lose or destroy trees faster than we are planting them, and mature trees take decades to replace.

Studies show urban tree canopy can reduce ground level temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and as I’m sure you know, trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and give off life sustaining oxygen.

Here’s the punch line on that: trees are critical to protecting the most vulnerable city residents as the climate crisis continues to accelerate.

If you look at the satellite map of the greater Cleveland area you can immediately see the inequity of how the tree canopy is distributed. The greenest areas are those where affluent whites live. The areas where there is little or no tree canopy or green space are the poorer neighborhoods where people of color live. There is a direct correlation between the degree of tree canopy and race and wealth.

This has by no means happened by accident. Investments in infrastructure like our tree canopy have selectively benefited whites here. No surprise, right? And this is exactly the type of factual reality that Critical Race Theory teaches: the brutal truth of systemic racism in a place like Cleveland, Ohio.

The new mayor must turn this around fast and reestablish the health sustaining tree canopy that once made Cleveland “The Forest City.” He can take the lead and put in place a project budget and schedule that immediately starts to gain ground on the tree loss.

The mayor can also provide incentives to businesses and non-profit institutions to fill their open space campuses with trees. There are thousands of blighted houses, vacant lots and open spaces in the neighborhoods that are candidates to be forested and / or turned into parks, city gardens and green playgrounds. Residents can be provided with assistance to maintain existing trees and plant new ones. Developers must be required to preserve trees where at all possible and install multiple trees for each one removed.

Notably, trees can and should be “valued.” I checked one on-line calculator to do that, and there are many. I randomly punched in a 40-foot elm with a two-foot diameter. That calculator said the tree was worth $3500, but that sounds low to me. I’m sure there are reliable ways to estimate the value of trees that are going to be destroyed, and that value needs to be paid for.

So, if you’re going to take out a bunch of mature trees to put in a monolithic, aesthetically demeaning luxury apartment complex that makes the developer rich on tax abatement and cheats the school system of revenue, maybe you should be required to exponentially replace those trees OR pay the city what they are worth. Interesting idea, eh?

With a comprehensive and urgent project approach the new mayor of Cleveland can reestablish its tree canopy to better protect its residents from the treacherously deadly urban “heat islands” that the climate crisis has created. And as you’re seeing every day now with the climate crisis, we are quickly running out of time to protect the most vulnerable in our society from its hellish effects.

(Original art by Joan E. Hargate)

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Arthur Hargate is retired after a 40-year management career in the environmental services business. He now writes, plays guitar and is a social activist.

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Arthur Hargate

Arthur Hargate

Arthur Hargate is retired after a 40-year management career in the environmental services business. He now writes, plays guitar and is a social activist.

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