by Deirdre Graziano
watching (on PBS television) Ken Burns' new series on the
National Parks, the benefits and beauty of nature once again
are driven home. Many of us cannot travel to the Grand Canyon
or Yosemite, but we can enjoy the beauty of nature right
in our own city. Notably through our magnificent parks and
our great lake. But also in our immediate neighborhoods
- our boulevards, our parkways, and our very own back yards.
Known as the "City
of Big Shoulder" and the "Windy City," we are
also proudly known as the "City in a Garden," In
1847, it was written our parks and green would "not have
their equals in the world." Our emerald necklace of inland
public parks and boulevards was to function as the lungs of
our city. Chicago was to be a true green city, before such
adages were mainstream or popular.
What has happened? With a century and a half of awareness,
we are still losing more and more of our urban green space.
Even with the city planting over 400,000 trees we have less
than 50% of the trees than we had fifty years ago (Mayor Daley's
Green Crusade, MetropolisMag.Com, July 1, 2004). Most notably
within LCA, we are losing our backbone of green - the once
continuous vista of Chicago green back yards. Such back yards
over the years defined family, BBQs, and neighborhood. They
were our personal green space, a reprieve from the chaos of
our day-to-day urban living.
Double Loss: Green Backyards and Parkway Trees
beauty is abundant within our LCA boundaries
even without an official garden walk.
In the place of true green yards, a new precedence is creeping
forward - the complete concretizing of rear yards. At a time
when urban ecologists are calling for more not less permeable
landscaping, a critical question arises: Why is this concretizing
occurring? Why are traditional ground level backyards in jeopardy?
Is this developer driven? Does the new zoning code, in fact,
encourage such devastation? Are new landowners unaware of
the significance of the loss of permeable earth and mature
trees in what was once a backyard? Are backyards to become
glorified concrete patios? It is not that yards are not valued
- for the past 41 years thousands have come every summer to
walk through Lincoln Park gardens. Twenty three thousand visitors
attended the 2009 Sheffield Garden Walk. With music, architectural
tours, and 90 city gardens open for display, The Garden Walk
is one of the most successful community events in the city.
The walk attests to the reality that a backyard garden in
the city is a treasure to behold.
Benefits of Green Backyards
of permeable green backyards have been highlighted with
the rising green movement. Articles touting the beauty and
benefits of urban green space are ubiquitous. They can be
found in magazines on newsstands and in doctors' offices,on
the internet, and even in our children's school bulletins.
Green is becoming a part of our youngsters' school curriculum.
The awareness that the next generation will suffer without
ecological interventions and green preservation is growing.
Truth is green will be to the benefit of all... children,
young adults, singles, families, the elderly.
With the loss of green backyards there is, ironically, an
increase in green roofs. True green roofs on garages and rooftops
provide economic as well as ecological benefits. They can
offset the urban heat islands that plague our modern world.
LCA actively encourages green roofs, but not at the expense
of our permeable backyards. LCA believes green roofs and green
backyards compliment one another. Green roofs need to be in
addition to backyards wherever possible. A partnership with
developers, homeowners and landscape architects is one of
LCA's primary commitments to the community. But LCA is very
clear that as an organization it actively opposes and will
speak out against the complete concretizing of city lots.
Examples of this concretizing are no longer hard to find.
They are occurring block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood.
The pictures below are extreme examples of the absence of
any permeability or green in this Lincoln Park rear yard.
LCA, other local neighborhood organizations such as RANCH,
and citywide groups such as Preservation Chicago worry that
these kinds of overbuilding in rear yards will set precedence
and allow more concrete not less to become the norm.
Concrete Rear Yard Example
to the loss of permeable green backyards, the loss of parkway
trees through poor construction and environmental practices
has increased the green damage visited on our community.
Trees, our mayor believes "can soften the rough edges" of
our city. In the summer the canopy of mature trees in Chicago
neighborhoods create a soothing mantle of green; in winter
the sculptured canopy becomes a miraculous wonderland.
percent of America lives within urban settings. We now understand
that mature urban trees reduce the greenhouse effect by
significantly reducing air-polluting gases while releasing
oxygen for us to breath. Trees protective shade often reduces
air conditioning costs, up to 30%. Like green backyards,
trees reduce surface runoff of storm water, wind and soil
erosion, while increasing ground water recharge. Without
trees cities like Chicago, would need "to increase
sewage and storm water drainage channels and waste treatment
capacities to handle increased water runoff" (Benefits
of Urban Trees Forestry Report R8-FR 17, US DA Forest Service).
The utility of trees is well documented, but the beauty of
trees has economic as well as aesthetic value. Chicago's Landscape
Ordinance holds "an attractive city of tree-lined streets
and boulevards" and "greener neighborhoods" enhances
property values. What is good for the citizen is also good
for the city. Even with these accolades, we are still losing
many of our mature trees along our parkways and in city backyards.
What can we do?
Loss of trees in the city is inevitable. Chicago looses about
16% of its trees thru urban deforestation, climate change,
disease, infestations (such as Dutch Elm), salt, freezing/thawing
cycles, and pollution. The Bureau of Forestry plants approximately
5,000 trees a year, but the toll of tree loss is still great
and our parkways are often victims of this loss. Parkway trees
are on city property. Though the city chooses from a diverse
selection of urban hardy species, the city often cannot protect
our parkway trees from the man made destruction that comes
from poor construction habits and raised decorative planters.
A TREE KILLER - RAISED DECORATIVE PLANTERS
One of the most negative practices abounding in our community
is the building of raised decorative planters in our parkways.
This well-meaning, but misplaced practice actually damages
trees. The City guidelines (below) for parkways are simple
and clear. What is puzzling about the new wave of raised planters
is that respected landscaping companies often are hired for
their expertise and experience, and instead of educating their
clients about the dangers of inappropriate raised beds seem
to acquiesce to the clients' misguided wishes.
New Construction/ Parkway Troubles
In addition to the dangers of poorly planned raised parkway
beds, poor construction practices in our neighborhood have
too often caused the death of our community's parkway trees.
On one LCA street, two trees were killed due to the trauma
and lack of protection from new construction. Both trees had
to be removed by the city but only one was replaced. The developer
simply paved over the area where the second tree stood.
area where a parkway tree once stood.
City Guidelines on Parkway Trees
Who is responsible for maintaining parkway trees? We are
the protector of our parkway trees. The landscaping code requires
property owners to maintain the parkway trees for a minimum
period of 5 years following their initial planting. After
this 5-year period, the City's Bureau of Forestry will assume
responsibility for the maintenance of parkway trees.
New trees will be planted but often only at the request of
the homeowner or neighbor. We need to speak up when we see
poor practices that endanger our trees. The Dept of Forestry
will come out if there are complaints. Simply dialing 311
begins the process. Watering our trees during periods of drought,
calling to have trees trimmed, reminding neighbors of the
dangers of raised beds; all are practices we can easily enact.
trees are to be protected during construction. The City
of Chicago's Tree Protection Guide (Chicago Bureau of Forestry
05/11/04) was created to "minimize the negative
impact of construction activities on street trees." A
protection barrier or temporary fence of at least 4 feet in
height should be installed around each tree to be protected
and preserved. These protective measures are to be installed
prior to the actual construction and maintained for the duration
of the project. John Kirchner of the Dept. of Forestry reaffirmed
that these protective measures are part of the Chicago Municipal
Code and apply to construction of single-family homes as well
as larger projects. There are many developers who protect
our parkway trees - but, regretfully, there are some who do
parkway tree in construction area within LCA
Parkway tree roots that are on private property are not protected
by the city and can suffer serious trauma due to construction.
Construction equipment can injure roots. Digging and trenching
- though necessary - can sever portions of the parkway tree
roots. If these injuries are extensive, they can be fatal
- but many of the trees that suffer such damage can be saved,
if the proper steps are taken by the developer (www.treesaregoood.org).
Developers and homeowners need to understand how new construction
can occur while protective measures can be applied to lessen
the damage to parkway tree roots. This has to be done on a
voluntary basis but becoming a guardian of our parkway trees
ultimately will add to the value of a homeowner's property.
Developers, according to Chicago's Best Management Practices
Guide, must contain all on-site dust generated by the project,
but a few developers do not appropriately contain the dust
from sandblasting and stone cutting. Wet blades are, at times,
not used because of their inconvenience and areas are sometimes
not wet down because a water supply is difficult to secure.
This dust from construction damages parkway trees as well
as our lungs. Talking to the contractor is the first step,
but if the illegal practices still occur, a call to 311 will
alert the Dept. of Environment (who will send out an inspector).
to become advocates for our city's green efforts, and we
need to commit to green practices ourselves. Recently, new
green lots have appeared within LCA. Some neighbors have
bought and shared a lot devoted to green space. Others have
added reasonable additions to their homes while expanding
green space on the front of their second lot. It makes sense,
but it is an expensive venture. Far better to preserve and
install permeable green yards, protect mature trees, and
care for our parkway trees appropriately so we all, as neighbors
and fellow urbanites, can benefit from the poetry of green.
As Kilmer wrote, we will never see "a poem lovely as
a tree." Words spoken long ago but words which ring true
to this day.