A story in the Times-Picayune tells the sad tale of the death of yet another benevolent giant live oak in Louisiana. This time, it was a revered tree in Old Mandeville, killed by the usual suspect–humans. Yet the writer and the so-called expert got it all wrong. This tree did not die a natural death, it was a slow-motion murder by pavement and development. It didn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t have to continue to happen, but it will.
We lack the common sense to be responsible stewards of our landscape. To some, this isn’t a big deal. But the fact is, we will die if we continue to fail to address our ignorance. That tree is just one of thousands of ancient oaks lost to development. In too many cases, “tree coffins,” those concrete boxes in the sidewalk or parking lot in which we expect trees to “live” are ultimately the cause of their deaths. You see it everywhere, from downtown streets to mall lots, older trees getting scraggly and dying in these small set-asides. It’s just plain stupid.
I’d love to do a documentary on this subject if anyone out there is interested in helping. It’s long overdue.
And here are the comments I posted:
It is clear that development under the canopy is what killed that tree. To have a concrete curb within mere feet of the trunk means that the root system was damaged, ripped up and smothered by paving. The number one cause of the death of urban trees is soil compaction. Older trees, that grew without interference for decades, are particularly sensitive to disturbance of their root zones. Think of a tree as a closed system where the roots recycle the fallen leaves and act like both lungs and intestines, processing nutrients, water and air in a metabolic system. Then imagine machines, shovels, people, digging, covering, and sealing this system. It often takes decades for these trees to die.
Look at the large trees in Old Metairie, surrounded by pavement. They are spindly, which means the tree is shutting down branch systems in its attempts to adjust. Trees are like submarines or ships with watertight doors that close to protect the rest of the vessel. When you see dead branches, those branches are shut down and will not become leafy again.
That tree in Old Mandeville was murdered by progress. It died a slow and public death. It did not die of old age. It died of ignorance, neglect, and by the assault of human development.
The good news is that we know better and can do better. But it is too late for many of these sentient giants in whose branches we can sense the touch of the divine. Older trees need and deserve protection and that means public policies that honor their roles in the health and wellbeing of the land that supports and nurtures us. We need to give older trees space. The top 18 inches of soil where most of the life-giving aspects of biology give rise to not only trees, but us. We need to understand that soil is alive and that trees–and humans–need healthy, loose, alive soil if we are to thrive.
Guidry is wrong. It was somebody’s fault, a very long time ago, when they failed to care about the space that tree needed, and put concrete and pavement over its roots, and began a process of starvation and strangulation that weakened it and caused it to die sooner than it should have. We killed this tree, probably generations ago, when we built the roads and sidewalks over its most sensitive space, its root systems.
But it’s not just about protection, if we are to have good public infrastructure and healthy communities to serve future generations, we need to understand that we must put the right tree, in the right place, planted at the right time. And that means a broader variety of native species, not more crape myrtles, and not live oaks planted in small spaces between sidewalks and roads and under power lines. This, too, is foolhardy.
Until we become better educated about tree biology and implement policies that protect older trees and guide future plantings, many more will die. And we lose something of ourselves every time.
And here’s a picture of a tree killed by development after Katrina, since this article needs a dead tree and I’m not going to use the T-P’s pic.
It’s official. The first new recordings by Bas Clas in more than 20 years will be released on Earth Day, Sunday April 22. The 7 song CD is titled “Big Oak Tree” and features a mix of old and new songs all recorded at Dockside Studio in August 2011 with engineer David Farrell. Featuring an expanded lineup that includes Eric Adcock on keyboards, Dickie Landry on sax, and backing vocals from Leslie Smith and Mike Picou, the tunes range from crunchy rockers to a Cajun-flavored tale of life and loss (from which the title was gleaned) that features Roddie Romero on accordion, David Greely and Mitch Reed on fiddles, and Christine Balfa on triangle. The band will be performing at Festival International du Louisiane in Lafayette on Thursday, April 26 at 6pm and the following night (Fri, Apr 27) at The Wild Salmon, also in Lafayette.
OK, time to address a seriously Big Issue: Climate Change. I’ll try to keep this one simple.
For some reason, meteorologists have quite a few prominent deniers in their ranks. They purport to be experts because they are involved in reporting on weather. But, weather is not climate. And for TV weather “forecasters” to make claims that humans cannot and do not impact climate is a logical fallacy; because, they are not climate scientists. Meteorologists typically have a bachelors degree. Scientists, well, they not only are bound by rigid, peer-review methodologies; but, they have years of education above and beyond that of a typical TV weather personality. And research trumps opinion.
So here’s my take: Climate is to weather what the digestive system is to feces and urine. Climatologists are like medical doctors analyzing a system. Meteorologists are like commentators observing the process and predicting the arrival and general composition of an end product.
To put it crudely, when it comes to climate science, TV weather personalities barely know shit. And if it wasn’t for government investment in weather and climate resources—socialized science!—TV weather personalities wouldn’t be able to smile at us daily and make their predictions.
We live in a tiny bubble of life for which we can find no comparison in the known Universe. And on the scale of the Universe, our blue sphere is but an atom.
The biosphere is a relatively small part of Earth. The zone of life-giving atmosphere and land for humans is only a couple of miles thick. We undeniably have–and continue to–profoundly affect systems in the biosphere that normally span tens of thousands, even millions, of years. Whether it be the coastline of Louisiana; the expanding mats of plastic and petrochemical waste in the oceans; the prevalence of 20th century man-made chemical compounds in the tissues of humans, mammals and other species; or the ongoing and massive extinction of species at a rate 1000 times what should be normal–we ARE affecting Life on Earth.
Our short time in this realm of the living can be many things. The impact of one human’s brief life and work can linger for thousands of years. We see that in the wisdom and examples of religious figures, philosophers, scientists and inventors, and those who sacrificed themselves on the altar of basic human rights. If we can have such a positive impact, it is only logical to assume that we can have a long term negative impact.
We are messy and selfish creatures; but, we have the intelligence and imagination to reach the stars, and to live compassionate and productive lives. We know that many of the things we do are harmful to our future both individually and collectively. Climate scientists have clearly shown us that we must take bold steps now to reduce the chances of catastrophic harm to ourselves. This is not about saving the planet. This is about saving us.
The next time you see or hear a media weather personality dismissing the human realities of climate change, contact that media company and express your frustration. Tell them you’re tuning them out for another channel. Media companies understand that language. Vote with your voice and with the remote control.
We live in the most compassionate time in the history of the human race. We instantly communicate tragedies and elicit immediate response from an increasingly aware and generous international population. This is potentially the most transformative era in human history. But naysayers and deniers, many of whom are profiting handsomely from their contrariness, are undermining our response to this global emergency. And transformation can go either way, good or bad. We have no time to waste.
It’s the ultimate “lead, follow or get out of the way” moment. What are you going to do?
NOTE: The Age of Stupid is currently airing on Planet Green. Even if you don’t have cable, you can watch this powerful and compelling movie online. Do it today. If we don’t take immediate action to reduce our impact both individually and collectively, the next generations face catastrophic change.
This week an 18 wheeler delivered a truckload of plants for the final stages of The Great Concrete Lawn in City Park. This multi-million dollar project sure provided a lot of money and work. That’s economic development. And that truckload of plants sure helped keep people employed—in Florida!
As the photo shows, a truckload of non-native species plants was delivered from a company with locations in Wisconsin and Florida. Cashio Cochran LLC, whose designs have disguised, smothered and killed the native landscape of City Park for the past couple of decades, ensured their role in history as perhaps the most un-enlightened park designers of the past half century with this last implantation of imported plant life.
But all is not lost…..yet. After this past week’s debacle of destruction, the Voodoo Music Experience (VME), tore up the soil under some of the most beautiful and fragile oaks in the park, we at least can look forward to when these non-native palms, ginger and other decorative plants blossom and bloom and hide those ugly old oaks that obviously were in the way of Cashio Cochran’s Eisenhower Era vision of tidy design.
What a year it’s been in City Park! Though I’ve only been blogging about it since March, we’ve seen bad decisions multiply like invasive species. The ironies pile up, too. The post-VME smell on Roosevelt Mall, despite the preponderance of familiar bull horns on the portable toilets, isn’t the aroma of the past couple of years in the French Quarter, but that of Bourbon Street of years gone by–a sour, sickly smell that this week’s blooming Sweet Olives can’t disguise. The damage, the smell, the bad design, the out of state plants, the heavy equipment crushing soil and roots, I guess it all smells like money to somebody. Or else we’d be hearing more than just me moaning and griping.
But, I guess I’m lucky. Unlike the those ever-more scraggly old oaks, I get to go home and put those smells and sights out of my mind whenever I want. And I have to assume that the folks who work there find all this quite normal since it keeps happening again and again and again and again and again…………..
City Park’s consulting arborist, Tom Campbell, working with contract arborist Tom Benton, has taken the first step in best practices for live oaks with a soil remediation project for two trees at the site of the new dog park. This location, where cars parked for decades and compressed the soil, was a great candidate for the effort.
Working with what arborists call an “air knife” that injects compressed air into the soil, loosening it and allowing air, water and nutrients to flow, the soil was also amended with organic matter and now looks rich and life-giving.
The site will now serve as a test for future efforts. The next likely candidate area is the playground near the Peristyle, where years of human activity have compressed the soil and badly damaged many mature trees.
Kudos to Tom Campbell and City Park for taking the initiative to begin this much-needed process of restoration and best practices!
Thanks to Lolis Elie and the Times-Picayune for telling the story of how I’ve been trying to promote best practices for tree care in our area.
This is just a brief post for new visitors. I’ll be updating in greater detail later. But, I have to address a statement made by landscape architect Carlos Cashio in today’s article. He says that “sometimes you take risks to accomplish certain design elements.” My response is NO, YOU DO NOT TAKE RISKS WITH MATURE LIVE OAKS IN CITY PARK. Ever.
I post these pictures to let you decide for yourself. What is more beautiful: Carlos Cashio’s concrete and brick pyramid-hat building or God’s ancient live oak?
It’s past time to let some of the true stewards and visionaries in the field of landscape architecture shape the future of this precious place. We already know what Cashio Cochran can do, and it does not meet my standards of the concept of legacy.
I really like the people behind the rebuilding of the Lafitte Projects. They’re nice. They said the new development will have many green and innovative features. But evidently everything must fit in nice square spaces and these trees are just not part of their vision for what the neighborhood should be.
30+ mature trees cut, 7 retained. And the beat goes on.
Good grief. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this latest horrible development. Evidently the City of New Orleans bears some responsibility for restoring Harrison Ave through City Park. Not only are they widening the road–to the detriment of the oaks–but they’ve specified that a path be cut, evidently for sidewalks. Even the construction crew was surprised at the technical specifications which called for them to bulldoze the path. Now the trees have had their roots severed and are destined to be compacted and be abused by suffocating additions, likely concrete.
Why is it that as we rebuild we are killing so much of what matters in this town? What the floods didn’t take, stupidity is.
I couldn’t post all the pictures here so I built a Posterous page with 27 pictures. You can find it here at http://dyingoaks.posterous.com
Who is responsible for this latest crime against our quality of life?
After sending a still-unanswered correspondence about how the new Great Lawn project was damaging one of the older trees in the park, I noticed that these signs went up. Doesn’t that make you feel better? No? I thought not.
I did learn that the park’s primary contractor for tree “care” has now written a prescription for the tree. So, after the destructive acts committed against this beautiful and iconic oak by the design team, management and the construction company, the park is suddenly looking after the health of the tree. Ah, irony is a bitter and repulsive dinner sometimes.
Special note: I want to apologize if this post ruffles feathers. I admit that I am frustrated. I feel like I’m watching a loved one being assaulted and I’m supposed to be diplomatic and say, “please stop hitting her.” I pray that I find the inner-peace, wisdom and tact to evolve into a more effective and less-pointed advocate for a better world. For now, however, this is what I’ve thrown out there to try to find “light in the darkness of insanity” to quote Nick Lowe. I only want the best for City Park and our precious Louisiana. SP
Here are the gory details:
Well paid City Park designers, contractors and staffers continue to abuse and kill the precious live oaks under their stewardship. The Great Lawn project, part of the park’s Master Plan, is currently under construction. Just as with the Pavillion of the Two Sisters, a project that killed nearly a half dozen trees with at least one still barely holding on; and, with the loss of trees in the Sculpture Garden ongoing, all due to bad planning and implementation that failed to properly protect the soil and delicate root systems of the trees, the park is in trouble.
As I said in a previous post, City Park is being paved over. Already, an acre has been slathered with a suffocating coat of toxic asphalt. The Master Plan calls for many more acres to be encased in life-starving, impermeable concrete and asphalt because too many people in charge don’t know readily available procedures for Best Management Practices for a public park.
As I’ve noted, New Orleans City Park should be the green heart of the area. It should be the leader in sustainability and green principles to which we all turn to learn about and witness how humans properly manage the natural spaces our parks represent. After witnessing the construction of the Big Lake project and it’s poor choice in materials, tree selection and placement, and water management strategies–which connect to all these issues–I believe the park is in the hands of people who are reshaping it in ways that reflect the mindset of a bygone and downright ignorant time.
Here’s a letter I sent today to several people involved in the operations and oversight of City Park:
I am writing to urge you to act swiftly to prevent further damage to live oaks in the park; and, to add appropriate arborists and local green/sustainable design experts to the paid teams developing and implementing the park’s Master Plan.
Apparently, the overall planner for the Great Lawn project designed it to include concrete structures around the base of the large live oak across from the Peristyle. The design does not take into account the needs of the tree. Damage is happening now, with large areas deep under the canopy dug-out, lined with gravel and framed for concrete. Additionally, there is a trenched square nearly a foot deep under the canopy, cut across the roots.
As a lifelong advocate for live oaks, a recently trained Parkway Partners/Louisiana Urban Forestry Council Certified Citizen Forester; and, having learned Best Management Practices at Jefferson Tree School, a continuing education program for arborists, I know that the top 18 inches of soil are the most critical to the health of live oaks. The photos show the “improvements” underway have removed the top layer of soil and deeply trenched a section, cutting vital roots.
This is clearly a case of destructive design and construction that should have been stopped at several stages of the process.
With the heat, drought and now root damage, this tree will suffer significant die-off from which it will never fully recover. I believe you should immediately bring in a local live oak expert such as Scott Courtright or Tom Campbell to evaluate and try to remediate the damage already done.
It is time for City Park to stop using impermeable hardscapes that suffocate the soil, kill the trees, increase flooding and erosion, and speed pollutants into our precious waterways. No more impermeable concrete or toxic asphalt!
In researching this situation I learned an important fact regarding landscape architects: their degree does not require them to be arborists.
To me, this explains many things regarding how and why trees have been damaged in City Park.
Trees seem to be chosen by the park’s go-to landscape architect with appearance superseding appropriateness. Paving systems are designed and built without an arborist’s understanding of their impact. This is not in line with Best Management Practices for native flora, water management, enhancement of the flyway and wildlife, or Low Impact Design. Any number of people in our area are experts on these matters. Some of them are cc’d in this email.
This is not a job for volunteers. Well paid contractors–using taxpayer funding and donations of people who assume we’re using BMPs–are currently creating these destructive actions. It’s past time to include paid local experts who can help the park become the green leader we all need and deserve.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.