Connecting Canopies With Determination And Collaboration
Since the dawn of human civilization, it is estimated that Planet Earth has lost nearly half its trees.
As human population grows, urban tree canopies have dwindled. When mature trees are lost to disease or development or sometimes just old age they are often replaced with a smaller species – if they are replaced at all. Humans are the main cause of tree loss through deforestation, changes in land use and forest management policies.
And yet, trees are critical to solving the climate crisis and to our own wellbeing.
In 2005, then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper launched the Mile High Million Tree Initiative, part of an international movement to increase our urban forest, reduce the carbon dioxide in the air and thus, reduce global warming. The goal was to plant one million trees in Denver, by 2025.
Seven years and about 250,000 trees later, Hickenlooper had left City Hall and moved to the governor’s mansion. In 2013 the Denver Post reported his replacement, current Mayor Michael B. Hancock, had abandoned the Mile High Million Tree Initiative, opting instead to take a “different approach.” A new threat had emerged: the impending invasion of the emerald ash borer. So, rather than a million new trees, the focus is now on keeping the canopy we’ve got.
Fast-forward seven more years – to 2020. The ash borer has not yet arrived, but our fast-growing city has lost trees, including to land development. Denver government’s forestry website says our urban forest currently shades 19 percent of the city and provides $122 million in benefits to residents each year. Those benefits range from property value increases, energy savings, carbon storage, stormwater runoff reduction, and air quality.
In other words, trees aren’t just nice to look at and lounge under. They help clean our dirty air, help cool our city and provide flood mitigation. Scientists say that for every 10 percent increase in the overall tree canopy, ozone is reduced by roughly 3 to 7 percent.
Yet as Denver grows we risk losing our remaining green spaces and mature trees.
Denver’s air quality has been worsening and our number of ozone days are increasing. Last year the Denver Post reported the Queen City of the Plains, once described as a “city within a park,” is becoming a concrete metropolis.
Nearly half the city’s land is paved over – which could grow to 70 percent by 2040. Denver also now ranks nationally near the bottom – that’s right, the bottom — in park acres.
With fewer trees and less green space, we can expect our city will be hotter and flooding problems will increase. It is critical that we dedicate time and resources to developing more parks and green spaces, in order to plant an urban forest. We must look for opportunities and have the political will to make it happen.
Which brings us to Colfax Avenue. Colfax was once described by Playboy magazine as the wickedest street in the U.S. It’s is also a long stretch of road, covering 49.5 miles from Strasburg to Golden. During the Gold Rush of the 1800s it served as Denver’s main commercial center. Over time Colfax has suffered from degradation and decay.
And if we change our way of thinking, this once-wicked street could contribute to our urban forest needs. Think of Colfax as the longest continuous tree-lined street in America – filled not just with trees but also other native plant species beautifying the entire stretch, and helping reduce the heat island effect.
I have heard multiple times that there just isn’t enough space to add trees to Colfax, and it is too hard to keep them alive. Along the corridor I have in recent years noticed smaller buildings being demolished, and replaced with structures that covers lot line to lot line, with no area for trees or green to be seen.
We must change our policies that address green space, trees and the size of buildings in order to provide space for trees and plantings. Yes, including on Colfax.
While our city is suffering from an increasing brown cloud, flooding along the corridor and one of the worst heat islands in the country we cannot afford not to make investments that make Denver more livable. Colfax is not the only opportunity we have, however if we collaborated with each city that houses this avenue we could create a multi-city effort, beautifying what is still viewed as a problem street.
It would take imagination and setting aside political differences, but it can be done. Re-imagining Colfax as a tree-canopied avenue stretching for nearly 50 miles would be an incredible, and enduring, display of collaboration and unified will to plant a better environment for all of us.
Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017, and is currently the Statewide Co-Chair of the Climate Reality Project for the 100% Committed Campaign.
The 21st Century Milkman
Looping In Reusable Containers
By Mark Kuhl
For the GPHN
The Environmental Protection Agency reports the average American generates 5.9 pounds of trash per day, of which only 1.5 pounds is recycled.
Maybe returnable, refillable containers could be one solution to reducing our trash. The company TerraCycle has partnered with several large food and consumer goods companies to find out, with a container return program called Loop.
CNN and others have likened the program to a sort of 21st Century milkman. Rather than those old glass milk bottles, though, the Loop is designed to replace single-use plastics – including for brand-name products ranging from shampoo to ice cream. Participating manufacturers design Loop product containers to survive up to 100 reuses. For now, customers in the pilot region of the mid-Atlantic states shop online and receive their shipments via UPS in a special tote. This same tote is used to return empty Loop containers.
A goal is to also sell Loop products at major retailers like King Soopers and Walgreens. It’s good news that giant corporations like Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble are pursuing ways to reduce single-use packaging. Let’s hope the Loop experiment yields positive gains for the environment and can be scaled up so everyone has access to a convenient, efficient returnable containers program.
Mark Kuhl is an environmental advocate who lives in Park Hill with his wife Nina and their two teenage daughters. Check out Kuhl’s handy tips and news about recycling household items every month in these pages. A directory of his past columns for recycling everything from paint to Styrofoam to shoes is at greaterparkhill.org/sustainability/recycling-directory/.