Putting Some Action into the Climate Action Plan: An Urban Tree Proposal

Just a quick hit of a post: 

  1. The Climate Action Plan calls for drastically increasing the urban tree cover in San Diego: 35 percent of the city by 2035.   The City is already getting to work, planting thousands of trees every year. 
  2. At the same time, the CAP also recognizes that we need to get people out of their cars and onto their bikes and walking on the sidewalks.
  3. In a lot of our urban neighborhoods, the streets are too wide, which encourages speeding and makes the environment less pleasant for walking and biking. If the CAP wants to reduce driving, it would be great to do something about street width.  Here is what some look like: 

    4.   One way to calm traffic is to install "pinchpoints" that narrow the road profile.  The travel lanes aren't affected, but the visual narrowing slows down drivers.  

    5. The City has already recognized the value to businesses of reclaiming parking spaces for public use by building parklets.   Of course, public seating areas don't really make sense in a purely residential area. (An aside: seems the new policy didn't spur much growth. Wish we had more parklets.)

    6. So let's expand the parklets idea to residents. The City should implement a streamlined process for residents to build pinchpoint tree plantings in the parking area directly in front of their property. Like this (excuse my horrible artistic skills): 


    7. The process would have to involve locating any underground utilities or sewer pipes to avoid problems. If there are no problems, the resident could plant a tree and bear all costs. The resident would not own the tree or the land, they would simply be making a contribution to the public good.  The City already has a great guide to suitable trees that won't mess up the street or sidewalk and how to avoid other problems. So long as the property owner is willing to follow that guide, they can tear up the asphalt, dig a hole, build a curb, and plant a tree.  

    8.  Why would anyone do this? Lots of reasons. First, trees are beautiful. You could promote the idea as creating more privacy and (saying this cynically) avoiding having random people leave their cars in front of your living room. But perhaps more importantly, trees provide shade to lower energy bills, slow down traffic to create a quieter environment, and also increase property values.   Some studies have concluded that having a mature tree near your house increases the value between three and fifteen percent. With San Diego house prices, that means an increase of at least $10,000 in value. Not a bad value proposition. 

    9.  Admittedly, and purposefully, this would result in a loss of parking spaces.  But any opposition to this would be the same people that claim to "own" the street parking in front of their house.  To oppose, they would have to argue that the homeowner has no right to dictate what happens in front of their house.  NIMBYs are often fine with making inconsistent arguments, but this would just make those arguments seem sillier.

    9. Why should the City allow this? Again, many reasons. It shifts some of the costs of implementing the CAP onto residents. Also, by enabling residents to increase their property values, the City is also increasing its property tax revenue. Additionally, it allows individual residents to feel part of the Climate Action Plan and spurs action in neighborhoods. Perhaps not many trees will be planted, but one is better than none. I think it also challenges the premise that the streets belong to cars. The streets are public spaces that belong to the people. If a resident sees more value in a tree than a parking spot, let's let them change their environment and build the city they want to live in.