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SD Union Tribune letter to the Editor
Re : Planner urges residents to help with tree program 1/25/2019

As a landscape architect I eagerly read last Friday’s article on the city’s tree canopy program. I applaud the City of San Diego’s neighborhood outreach and the good work being done by Ms. Henegar to encourage homeowners to plant more trees around their property. This program can help towards the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals for new tree canopy. However, homeowners can only do so much given constraints on their personal economy, property restrictions and utility clearances.

While the effort by Mayor Faulkner and city staff is laudable, city government still needs to do more to provide effective leadership implementing the CAP program goals. A logical good start would be to fill the vacancy of the office of City Landscape Architect. A thoughtful and multi-faceted approach to provide full funding for parks tree maintenance, doubling the quantity of trees within street right-of-ways and adding staff and resources in municipal urban forestry would help as well. Trees are a vital resource for our communities. They provide shade, filter our air, reduce the urban heat island, help with storm water management and green our cities.

Just sticking a tree in the ground is not a good approach to solve our problem to increase tree canopy inventory. Landscape architects, urban foresters and arborists all have expertise in the proper installation and care of trees. One of my colleagues has characterized the thoughtless installation of street trees as the ’10-year Urban Tree Death Cycle’ where a tree is installed in a small 5×5 street planter, maybe thrives for a couple years, then declines when not maintained, pruned incorrectly or vandalized. Then the planter is paved over to prevent perceived risks to the public. Better solutions exist and are in practice around the county.

The city must mandate better practices for installation such as larger urban planters as done in other cities, use of suspended pavement to help tree roots thrive while protecting street pavement and utility infrastructure and just more plain thought in selecting the right tree for the right location. San Diego is America’s Finest City. City government needs to provide aggressive and sustained leadership of the Climate Action Plan by partnering with community groups, home builders, developers and residents in reaching the important goal to increase our tree canopy in the coming decades. Trees and landscapes aren’t just the ‘makeup’ on the beautiful face of our community. Green infrastructure and urban forests perform a vital role providing climate resiliency for all cities and all of us.

Philip Armstrong ASLA
President American Society of Landscape Architects
San Diego Chapter