Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Give Little City’s Trees the Respect They Deserve

By Karen L. Jones

City trees are tough – they withstand a lot of abuse and generously provide residents with beauty and shade. There are countless benefits to an urban forest. According to the EPA, trees can:

• increase property values and “curb appeal”

• produce oxygen, clean the air and reduce global warming

• reduce flooding, runoff and water pollution

• increase revenues and pedestrian appeal in shopping districts; and

• provide a “traffic calming” effect by reducing the speed of drivers

A 2011 paper by Reed College economists found that walkability, in the form of nearby businesses, raises a Portland home’s value by about $3,500 in a treeless neighborhood, but $22,000 in a tree-lined one. Intuitively this makes sense. Most of us do not want to stroll or hang out in a concrete jungle. Walkability has become a key factor when estimating property values .

According to the American Planning Association (APA) “Green infrastructure evokes the interconnectedness of nature and people in urban areas.” APA also notes that residents living in attractive outdoor settings met and socialized with their neighbors, formed social ties, felt safer and less stressed. This is a vision that all Little City citizens can appreciate. And this vision must not fade away during the City’s plans to build and commercialize. Commercial and environmental objectives are not mutually exclusive. With careful and thoughtful planning and dialogue between city planners, the tree commission, real estate developers, and citizens – a win/win is possible. Imagine a Little City which is charming, inviting, and green. A place where you find yourself strolling and relaxing. You may not even know why you find it so pleasant… but there you are anyway, whether it is dining, shopping or meeting with your friends and neighbors. What is the entire stretch of Broad Street could be this inviting? Developers, property owners, city business owners, and residents could all be signing kumbaya together while admiring the green, both leaves and dollars.

Despite economic, environmental and societal benefits, our trees are not getting the respect they deserve. Damage to the urban forest costs the City in allocation of financial and staff resources, and reduces these big benefits. Over the past several months the City of Fall Church Tree Commission has noted the following damages:

• tree stress due to urination (usually from dogs)

• tacking and nailing flyers and posters to tree trunks, or cutting into bark to remove posters (note that even a large tree can suffer damage since cuts into tree bark can introduce a myriad of pests and disease)

• car related damage (primarily when cars accidently back into trees while parking)

• pedestrians walking in tree pits (contributes to soil compaction and root damage over time)

What can city planners do? Encourage the use of raised beds (such as bull nose tile) or other means to create a protected root zone “PRZ” around city trees. Also consider carefully the long-term consequences of not allowing adequate set backs for new buildings. Once a building is established – it will be there for perhaps one hundred years. If new buildings along the main street were set back at least 25 feet – it would encourage healthier trees and adequate pedestrian space for all. This is a long term economic win – because it encourages commerce, outdoor dining, and increased property values.

What can property owners do? Take care of trees in front of your property. The City’s arborist manages city-owned trees and the risks associated with them, including irrigation and treatment. However there are many property owners that mange their own trees. Either way, attention is required. Is the tree stressed, diseased, dehydrated? Early interdiction can save the tree.

What can pedestrians do? Avoid walking on tree beds. Many of the Little City’s trees have defined and slightly elevated beds which are bordered by bullnose tile. These raised tiles have been very helpful in defining tree space and discouraging pedestrians from treading on sensitive tree roots. Unfortunately the Little City has also selected flush pavers and tree beds for newer developments. This design is less effective for discouraging pedestrian encroachment.

What can dog walkers do? While people can mitigate most of the above damages by modifying their pedestrian and motorist behavior… what do you do about Fido? Almost everyone is aware of pooper-scooper laws and Falls Church residents are seen dutifully carrying their poop bags. However, is it possible to train your dog to unload in a gutter? The answer is yes, you can “curb your pet.” That’s where you’re supposed to do it anyway, according to laws in many large cities such as New York.

Finally, we should all be vigilant. Our Little City is growing and developing and hopefully our urban forest will grow along with us. If you see any damage to trees, please report to the City’s arborist Kate Reich; kreich@fallschurchva.gov; 703-248-5183.