Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cut or save giant sequoias

As in Lake Oswego, Portland appears to have two tree codes: a liberal one for builders, and a strict one for homeowners.  Money talks.

Portland talks green, but ignores the value of trees (OPINION)
Oregonlive.coml July 18, 2015.
Guest Columnist, Robert McCullough

As a community activist, I am often asked how the city's policies have drifted so far from our basic values. I have pondered the question and do not have an answer. One neighbor has coined the phrase "green wash" to describe Portland's curious environmental record — we talk "green" but city policy is more likely found to be grayish black.

Neighbors in southeast are currently engaged
in a desperate attempt to save a stand of heritage trees — giant sequoias that have dominated the vista near Reed College for the past 150 years. In doing so, they only have one tool — greenmail — to buy the property back from a developer who had planned to clear-cut the site. Appeals to the city went unanswered. The city's tree code — requiring experts and lawyers to interpret — is basically impotent where developers are concerned. The responsible city commissioner did not answer calls, letters or emails. This is wrong, both politically and scientifically. 

Let's actually address the science. Nature, one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals, recently published a peer-reviewed article entitled "Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center." The scientists included those from the University of Chicago, Indiana University, the University of Toronto and other major institutions. Their conclusions are striking: "We find that having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger. We also find that having 11 more trees in a city block, on average, decreases cardio-metabolic conditions in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger."

In my day job, I am considered to be an expert in statistical studies, si I reviewed their methodology carefully.  They based their statistical results on a detailed data set from
Toronto, Canada.  Their significance, a statistical measure indicating the quality of the result, is excellent.  This is not a tree-hugger's manifesto, but an actual example of hard science applied to an emerging urban issue.

Most measures that add to health and economic well-being are difficult to adore.  This is not one of them.  We are actually paying dollars to clear-cut Portland neighborhoods.  If we stop, we get to keep those dollars and improve the health and welfare in Portland.

Perhaps it is time to turn back the clock a lot to when Portland's values represented environmentalism and land-use planning.  I think we need many more trees and fewer bulldozers.

Robert McCullough is president of a Uplift, and Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association

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