Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Urban Forest

I've written before about how the loss of housing in Flint as the population shrinks has left parts of the city looking downright pastoral. This house in Carriage Town (above) looks a bit like the Little House on the Prairie.

Another lot in Carriage Town with only a checkerboard of cement to remind us this used to be the site of a home.

Some Carriage Town yards rival suburban lawns in size and splendor.

I can't help contrasting Flint's increasing woodsiness with San Francisco. The City by the Bay is fairly leafy compared to most urban areas, but it's often a struggle to get a tree to grow on a sidewalk, where they fall victim to cars, bad soil and general drunken buffoonery. All of the photos below were taken on Alabama Street in the Mission District.

A chicken coop protects a fledgling tree.

Tree protection sometimes doubles as a family memorial.

This tree requires maximum security.

Nature's splendor in the city.

Nature and metal sculpture take a backseat to one of San Francisco's many "art cars."


  1. Ah, with luck and foresight much more of Flint will look so pastoral, and Carriage Town will be home to new development.

  2. "Development" means someone making choices about what to build. As the neighborhood appreciates, it's reasonable to guess that some of the vacant land will be sold to speculative builders, who will be looking to maximize their profit rather than to build a personal residence. If no structure exists on a parcel to historically protect, what would prevent construction of something that's dissonant, architecturally or use-wise, thereby diminishing the whole neighborhood's value? Is something like a District Planning Board in place, with defensible requirements and legal teeth?

  3. Don't know how long the trees have been growing out of the cement in the mission district, but it's a nice touch. Like a "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" image. My daughter lived in Mission when she first was attending San Fransisco State and she loved it. How can this be? She was born in the middle of the woods in the UP. Now she's a Lower Haighter , and after her masters. She doesn't miss the winters, but she does miss the summer walks along Superior. unclebuck

  4. Flint actually has one of the most extensive urban forests, however it is most neglected. We have not had a forester employed by the city in over a decade. USDA money for Ash removal was misspent by the previous administration. I could taken you to many streets that look worse than your examples.

  5. The SF tree pics remind me of the tree pits in the brick sidewalks on Beacon Hill in Boston, where I lived for a number of years. Pinckney Street is pretty much a canyon. It must be a stressful place for a tree.

    A hurricane came up the coast one year, and passed over Boston as a protracted, very gusty rainstorm. The tree nearest Charles Street apparently had grown to medium size while still having relatively ball-delimited roots...perhaps the foundation wall of the building on one side and the watertightness of the street pavement on the other side made root-spread unproductive. Anyway, during the storm this tree tilted over about 30 degrees off vertical.

    A number of us were concerned to not lose it, but inquiries to the city forestry department were met with we're-sympathetic-but-if-it-didn't-blow-down-across-a-street-we-can't-get-to-it-for-a-month responses. A day went by and there was no sign of leaf wilt, so it seemed likely that most of the root structure was intact.

    No one else from the neighborhood had much of an idea of what to do physically, so I got some suitably heavy wire rope, pressure-spreading material, heavy turnbuckles and strong stakes, and anchored the tree structurally such that it could be pulled back upright at about 2-3 degrees per day. We kept the ground damp around the tree pit until I had it upright again, with fixed tieoffs to the stakes to brace it.

    I only lived there for about two years after that, but the tree made it at least that long and was growing. As of today, Google Maps' street view has vehicles parked such that I can't tell if my tree made it, or if it eventually was replaced. It's nice to at least see a tree currently growing there. City trees need a lot of special care to make it in very un-forest-like conditions.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.