‘Let there be shade’

Posted on | June 15, 2010 | 3 Comments

Frances Anderton of the NPR affiliate KCRW today dedicated the first spot of her design show DNA to not so much look but squint at the lack of shade in Los Angeles. Guests included Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group on sunscreens, Emily Green of Chance of Rain (also known as me) on the need for trees in schools and streets, urban planner James Rojas of Gallery 727 on how shade could redefine transport and architect Lorcan O’Herlihy on shade for bus stops. Quite aside from the rank puffery of pointing out my own appearance, it’s a smart visit to an important issue. To listen, click here.


3 Responses to “‘Let there be shade’”

  1. Ben Armentrout-Wiswall
    June 15th, 2010 @ 10:47 pm

    Interesting conversation. I’ve wondered why shade trees are so rare in southern California. In a climate where temperatures routinely get to 100 degrees every day for weeks on end, everyone has a lawn but hardly anyone has shade trees. I still don’t get it.

  2. Brad Rumble
    June 16th, 2010 @ 6:55 am

    In November, 2008 our elementary school was able to include six asphalt cuttings for new trees as part of a campus greening project. Before this I really had thought it was next to impossible to cut through asphalt (and the corresponding red tape), but it was surprisingly easy to incorporate the cuttings into our project plan–and nineteen months later all six shade trees are thriving.

  3. EmilyGreen
    June 16th, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    Hi Brad — Thanks for the comment. I have of course seen the shade trees in asphalt cuttings on your campus (Leo Politi Elementary School on the borders of Koreatown and Pico Union.) They soften a tight alley next to portable classrooms. It’s a nice example of how guerrilla greening can benefit what was clearly supposed to be a temporary arrangement.

    But as much as I love your school, I can’t endorse that approach. To my mind, it opens the back door to leaving campus greening to educators and non-profits. Is it better for volunteers from, say, TreePeople to come through with asphalt cutters, putting saplings in compacted soil, often without irrigation, rather than district facilities managers pursuing a coherent shade policy with principals? I don’t think that any real progress can be made until the latter happens.

    Shade trees need to become part of an integrated planned campus design, where they unify Facilities and the educational side of LAUSD, so both sides work together to create local pride in their campuses and skilled, beautiful gardening becomes part of the maintenance plan. As it stands now, trees put in during these asphalt cutting sessions often irritate custodial staff, who feel aggrieved that they are expected to sweep the leaf fall. Moreover, if they live, the trees often remain permanently scrawny until, ultimately, they’re removed by district facilities because all the do-gooders have moved on and the trees have no place in the plan. They’re something a bygone teacher, or principal, did and forgot to clean up.

    Educators are increasingly using the grounds for neat projects, as has happened at your school and is, I can’t say this enough, superabundantly wonderful (check out his native garden, everyone.) But we should all be sensitive that there is a downside. Successful gardens put in by greening projects sponsored by outsiders can leave the impression that campus greening is a fleeting, charity event. Custodians and campus ground crews are supposed to change light bulbs, mop bathrooms and pick up potato chip packets. Rather, I believe that campus plant managers and custodial staff, along with higher ranking facilities executives, need to be brought on, integrated and involved, so much so that they are at the forefront of the greening process. Campuses should have assigned, skilled gardeners. What we need is a programmatic approach to shade that starts on the design board and is carried through to planting day, and every day afterwards.

    Thanks for writing!

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