January 27, 2007

Bike | Walk

During my first fall in Berkeley, I was confronted by a police officer for two bicycle infractions: I was bicycling on the sidewalk and I was biking against traffic. I was still unfamiliar with Berkeley's street system. In particular, I had not yet memorized the streets that change direction, for example, Dana Street. South of Dwight, Dana is a two-way street, but north of Dwight, Dana is one-way running in a southerly direction. Shortly after that, the rains began and I put my bicycle in storage. I have not ridden my bike since that time. I identify as a walker: I am a member of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association and I read the Walking Berkeley blog. But, I support bicycle access and Berkeley is a bicycle town. There are numerous bike shops, especially clustered in the downtown area. The city maintains seven bike boulevards, four north-south (Ninth, California/ King, Milvia, and Hillegaas/ Bowditch) and three east/west (Virginia, Channing, and Russell). Berkeley's bicycle plan, of which the boulevards are a part, was adopted in 1999. The boulevards and the bicycle plan are part of a larger philosophy about neighborhood-oriented street patterns. (Read the post on Livable streets.) Also, local businesses, government offices, and the city provide bicycle parking. Yet, the bicycle situation in Berkeley is not without controversy. The median on Telegraph between Prince and Russell was recently removed to accommodate both parking and bike lanes. The city's traffic engineer told the Berkeley Daily Planet (January 26-29) that the median had to be removed to accommodate parking and bike lanes. Additional parking on Telegraph is viewed as a solution to the avenue's declining vitality. It is unclear why bike lanes are being installed on the avenue. Residents interviewed by the Daily Planet pointed to decreased pedestrian safety at the affected intersections. One resident was "indignant" at the lack of notification of removal of the median, while councilmember Kris Worthington emphasized the need for multi-modal transportation on Telegraph Avenue - "a full network of services for residents which takes into consideration bikes, parking as well as pedestrians." Although I did not find information about the median removal on the City of Berkeley website, the Office of Transportation web page has a highlighted link to a Streetsblog video on Berkeley's bike boulevards. Kris Worthington is featured in the video.

January 22, 2007

Urban trees and the Giraffa camelopardalis

I have worked as an urban forester, managing street-tree planting contracts; a community forester, co-directing a youth urban ecology program; and an arborist, all in Boston. I received my Massachusetts arborist certification in 2002, after successfully completing an exam which included included a tree identification section. One of the places where I developed my identification skills was the Arnold Arboretum in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. The Arboretum's collection is extensive - 7,082 individual plants on 265 acres. The trees of the Arboretum are well catalogued which made it a great place to study. I also developed my identification skills on the job - visiting nurseries to select street and park trees, working with youth and community groups on street tree inventories, and monitoring the health of street trees during the contractual maintenance period. Along the way I discovered some amazing tree places like majestic ginkgos (Ginkgo biloba) on Tonawanda Street in Dorchester and American elms (Ulmus americana) on a quiet street near Constitution Beach in East Boston. An East Boston resident nominated one of the Constitution Beach elms for the 2004 tree contest. This 43-inch elm was one of the finalists in the diameter category. The Christian Science Plaza in the Back Bay has a small grove of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), so named because the flowers of the tree resemble tulips. Other tree places were closer to home. I lived in three of Boston’s twenty neighborhoods. When I lived in Mission Hill, I would walk along the Southwest Corridor Park, a five-mile linear park. In the late 1960s, the State of Massachusetts acquired and assembled, via eminent domain, land for an eight-lane interstate highway. The park is the culmination of two decades of community protest, activism, and planning. London plane trees (Platanus acerifolia) line the park’s pedestrian path near my apartment. In Jamaica Plain, I lived three blocks from Jamaica Pond, part of the Olmsted-designed Emerald Necklace. Olmsted developed an extensive tree list for the Emerald Necklace parks, and as a result, there is a wide variety of trees located around the pond. There are European and American beeches (Fagus species), willows (Salix species) as well as the red and pin oaks (Quercus rubra, Q. palustris) lining The Jamaicaway. Some oaks, like Monterey (planted in Austin, Texas) and Laurel oaks (planted in Georgia), are classified as semi-evergreen. This might explain why the red oaks are among the last deciduous trees to drop their leaves in Boston. Willow trees, Back Bay Fens I also lived in the Fenway, home of Fenway Park, the Red Sox, and the Back Bay Fens, another Olmsted-designed park. Of the many trees in the neighborhood, I have a particular fondness for an old willow tree on Agassiz Road between Park Drive and The Fenway. I had my first tree climbing lesson in that willow. I also helped the tree warden (also a certified arborist) to collect branches from the willow for a sick giraffe at the Franklin Park Zoo. Of the various species fed to the giraffe, the willow was the preferred species. The extract of the white willow (Salix alba) bark, salicin, is the basis of aspirin. As a reward for delivering the willow branches, the warden and I were allowed into the giraffes’ pen and unto the feeding galley. This was an incredible experience for me - the giraffe is my favorite animal. For information on local willows, read Ron Sullivan's Berkeley Daily Planet article titled "Green neighbors: the endless usefulness of willows."

January 20, 2007

Power plant or sunshine

Despite two weeks of clear skies and sunshine, we bought a space heater this past weekend. Last week's temperatures were unseasonably cold. Lawns were often frost covered in the early morning. Daily temperatures were warmer this week but we saw ice patches where overnight sprinklers had watered sidewalks. We could have taken a cue from the Carter administration and bundled up in sweaters and thick socks (which we did for one night), but a space heater seemed like a reasonable purchase. If we were owners instead of renters, we could consider installing solar panels or other renewable energy technology. Fulton and Oregon Solar roof panels were recently installed on the southside of a house in the Le Conte neighborhood. Also, I have noticed that many apartment buildings have solar roof panels. I intend to map these buildings (please send the addresses of the ones you find - you can leave the information as a comment to this post). The City of Berkeley has an Energy and Sustainable Development Office and its website highlights four local exemplars of green development: Urban Ore Eco Park, Shorebird Nature Center, Berkeley EcoHouse (read about the house courtesy of the Ecology Center), and Civic Center. Electrical energy is being greened in many ways, one of which is featured in today's issue of the Oakland Tribune. The paper reports that Lake Merritt's necklace of light bulbs has been replaced with energy-saving light bulbs. The statistics: 4,000 bulbs, 25,000-hour life vs. 2,000 hours for traditional bulbs, and $9000 annual energy savings. Like the City of Oakland, renters (and house owners) can switch to energy-saving light bulbs and appliances. Other steps include insulating doors and windows. Trees and shrubs - with appropriate species and arrangement - can improve the energy efficiency of buildings. Shade trees are especially important in alleviating the urban heat island effect. In my case, the quince tree outside one of the south-facing windows loses most of its leaves in the winter, allowing the sun to warm the apartment. In the spring and summer, full of leaves, the tree filters the sun, keeping the apartment cool. The second south-facing window is not protected by any vegetation, and as a result, that part of the apartment can be very warm in the spring and summer.

January 18, 2007

Trees that made the headlines

Although it is not a tree, the Presidio clarkia, is the latest plant species to become the center of controversy. Today's edition of the Oakland Tribune includes a story by Momo Chang about the endangered plant, located on a 1.28-acre sloping parcel in the Oakland Hills. A residential development project of four 3800 square-foot houses has been approved by the City Council. This decision met with resistance by community members. Apparently the parcel supports "10 percent of the world's known Presidio clarkia." Elsewhere in Oakland, municipal decisions have sparked community protest. Last year, proposed tree removals as part of the city's restoration plans for Lake Merritt met with criticism. I wrote about this in September 2006. Earlier this week, the Berkeley Daily Planet published another article on the Save the Oaks protest in northeast Berkeley. The University of California has proposed the removal of a grove of trees including 38 live oaks to accommodate a seismic retrofit of and expansion to its 82-year old football stadium. (See Daily Planet, 12.15-18.2006, "Tree protestors cited, banned from campus; 10.17-19.2006, "UC plans to raze senior oaks to make way for the stadium.") Tree conflicts made the news in other parts of the country, including Los Angeles and Miami. The City Council of Los Angeles has recommended that as palms die, they be replaced with Southern California natives like sycamores. While the city cites prohibitive costs and liability from falling fronds, other L.A. residents claim that the palm represents Los Angeles - it is "physical evidence that Los Angeles is the right place to be" (see The New York Times, 11.26.2006, "City says its urban jungle has little room for palms" by Jennifer Steinhauer). While San Francisco has been planting palms especially along the redeveloped Octavia Boulevard, Miami has been removing its palms along Biscayne Boulevard. In addition to factors of cost of liability, the claim made by officials in Los Angeles, the City of Miami has an ecological argument : palm trees do not provide shade, but live oaks, the replacement trees, do. Miami's palm advocates argue that historic and cultural values should be considered in evaluating the contributions of the city's palm trees. (See The New York Times, 01.22.2006, "A Miami emblem is sacrificed for shade.") Of course, San Francisco is not without tree troubles. Even if you have not seen the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, you might be familiar with the Telegraph Hill parrots. In the fall of 2005, one year after the movie's release, one of the Monterey cypresses in which the wild parrots nested was removed by the owner of the parcel on which the tree sat. The San Francisco Chronicle published an article about the tree removal (possibly improper) and the responses by community members (upset) and the city (concerned). I have not located subsequent newspaper articles on the parrots or their nesting sites, but a petition is posted online.

January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Jr.

Oakland, CA Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech The King Center - MLK's biography

January 12, 2007

Looking for nature

Fog above the Charles River, Boston, MA I write about the neighborhood. I have written about neighborhoods in Berkeley and in other cities. I started this blog with the intention of writing mostly about nature and neighboring, but I have cast a fairly wide net. I would like to return to neighborhood nature this year. Nature is one of the four organizing principles of the neighborhood. Marcia McNally uses three other dimensions to assess and to plan for the neighborhood landscape: structure (land use and zoning), network (transportation), and setting (places that could support community). In addition to physical aspects of the neighborhood, I consider actual neighboring (like a conversation on the sidewalk) as well as markers of neighboring (like maintaining in the public right of way). The river-view photograph was taken on New Year's Day along Memorial Drive. Some theories of the city have placed it at odds with nature. Several elements in the photograph (top) challenge this idea. The fog, the river, the pooled water on the trail from a recent rain, even the grass of the lawn point to the existence of designed, naturally-occurring, and dynamic nature in, through, and around the city.

January 11, 2007

Resolutions

The New Year is a time for making resolutions. Nancy Pelosi's Congress has 100 days of resolutions. Life Hack has compiled the top 15 resolutions of the year. My resolution, in part, is to take stock of last year. In this spirit, I have created a digest of the December posts. Read, reflect, and comment. December 17: Theoretical origin of "local ecology," part 2 : case example Read more December 13: Livable (traffic-calmed) streets The concept of "livable streets" was developed by Donald Appleyard between the 1960s and his death in 1982. Read more December 10: Another list : neighborhood history projects Here are a few neighborhood (and city) history projects I like. Read more December 9: The theoretical origin of "local ecology" In the fall of 2004 I wrote a prospectus outlining the idea of "local ecology." Read more December 4: The quilt, a neighborhood metaphor I am a member of the Wishing Quilt collective. We recently met for the second time - some to finish their first squares, others to begin their second. The goal is to make six quilts. Read more December 3: Revisiting The Neighborhood Unit Lewis Mumford (1954) described the neighborhood as a natural phenomenon. He cited the development of New York neighborhoods like Chelsea and Greenwich Village.... Read more