Was I Wrong about the Trees at Park Lane?

I’m having a moral dilemma, and I need your help answering the question above.

Since I posted my last blog (Man-Made Tornado To Come Through Birmingham), I’ve been on a whirlwind of conversations, meetings, and even an interview with Fox 6 News.
I guess I stirred some things up — it turns out that people actually do care about trees — and they care about how this development is going to affect the community.
But I need to confess: There are some things I left out of that blog.  And there are some things I have learned since.  
To begin, I knew good and well that some of these old and beautiful trees on Park Lane property were not in the best condition.  
magnolia at the mercy of a power line on its right side = why it’s important to plant the right tree in the right place!
this one needs some love
After all, they are old.  My grandparents aren’t in tip-top shape either.  You know?
The problem is this:  in an urban environment, trees may have to be eliminated if they pose a risk to people.   This is proper practice and very much a part of urban tree care.  (And a great reason to take care of your trees when they are young.)
Also, I was fully aware that, as part of the development, they are intending to fix the stormwater drainage issue here.  Park Lane is deemed a flood zone.  Therefore, they are planning to raise the grade a couple of feet in order to tend to this problem.  In order to raise the grade, one must, well, start over.   Tree trunks buried under two feet of new soil just won’t do.  The tree will die. 
So, while we may want to say Cutting Down Trees & Development is bad, bad, bad, it’s just not that simple.
In fact, a lot of folks think that Lane Parke is a really good idea – loss of “green” or not. 
Fred Spicer, the Executive Director of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, was kind enough to speak with me.  The Gardens are directly across the street from Park Lane Apartments. Luckily, the developers have included him on some of the decision-making, and Fred had a lot of information to impart.  
one of my favorite trees at the BBG — a gorgeous Ginkgo — stunning yellow color in the fall
pretty roses at the Birmingham Botanical Garden
Fred says, “Lane Parke has the potential to benefit the Gardens and the community in terms of visitorship, connectivity, and tourism,” while taking care of some stormwater run-off problems in the Gardens and at the Park Lane site.  
He also believes that the traffic issues in Mountain Brook Village could possibly be cleared up as a result of this development.
After hearing his reasons and taking some time to consider, I agree with him.  Lane Parke has the potential — if it’s done right.
But if it isn’t, then what we are left with are a bunch of knocked-over trees and bulldozed historical buildings.  
I’m talking about Smart Growth.  And I’m not referring to trees.  Smart growth is a popular term in modern urban planning, and I see it as a necessity given the rate at which “development” is taking down trees and putting up buildings — buildings that sometimes end up empty after a few short years. 
The way I see it, ALL growth needs to be smart…
…especially in the heart of Tree City USA.
I reiterate:  I see the potential in a new and improved Mountain Brook Village, including functioning walking paths that connect the village to the Gardens to the Zoo to Jemison Trail to the YMCA, including large shade trees IN the parking lots, including bike lanes and bike racks, and picnic areas, with cans for recycling, please.  
currently in Western parking lot;  not best functioning
Mountain Brook Village would be a great place for people to come spend the day — shop, eat, visit the zoo, visit the gardens, enjoy the wooded Jemison Trail.  Park their cars, walk, ride their bikes, and be.  It truly would be community-building.  (Right now, it’s just hot and traffic-y.)
In fact, studies show that pedestrian-friendly areas profit more.  Why?  Because people are moving slower, enjoying themselves, browsing — and buying.  
Now, with all my questioning and conversing, one thing that I have found:  there is conflicting information in regards to this development.  Add to it the fact that Park Lane is in Mountain Brook boundaries, but Park Lane Road is part of Birmingham, things really get tricky.
Not to mention the newspapers (the primary source of information a few short years ago) are shutting down left and right, and emails, blogs, Facebook, and smaller publications are doing their best to take their place.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” In the Age of Communication, no less.
I know that it’s not exactly in Lane Parke‘s marketing plan to shout out that over 200 trees are being cut down to do it, but think of the shock and sadness of the residents as they drive down Park Lane Road when those trees are gone!
in front of the apartments along Park Lane Road — this one is in good shape!
 So.  I wrote that blog to inform all of you.  
That’s all.  It wasn’t really my job to tell you.  I did it anyway.
And you responded.  In a big way.  After all, trees are our lifeline.  I think perhaps on a subconscious level, we’re all getting a tiny bit alarmed at the rapid loss of all these beautiful beings.  Rightfully so.   And at what cost?

mature liquidambar on Park Lane site

 At the end of all these musings, all I can say is that what I have found is that this development has a lot of moving parts, and there is no simple answer.   Was I wrong about the trees?

Well.  They are still alive.  They are still giving.  Life-giving.  So no, I don’t think I was “wrong.”

Then again, what if Lane Parke became a model for green, sustainable, forward-thinking developments everywhere?  What if the new landscaping plan was gorgeous and we could have that canopy back, healthier and better within the next twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years?  What if people not only came from all over the South but the nation to witness Alabama’s smart growth in action?   (Wait.  Alabama?  Smart growth?  In the same sentence?  Now that’s press.)
In that case, I think the trees here would gladly sacrifice themselves.  (Although in my heart or hearts, it still makes me sad.)  And if we could save a few more some how for the short and long term, all the better.
So many people have said, “Oh, Katie, the Lane Parke development is done.  It’s happening.”
No.  Nothing is “done” until the first tree is cut.  Moving parts or not.
In fact, word has it that they are still waiting on some things from the Cities of Birmingham and Mountain Brook as far as approvals.
So it’s not “done.” There is still time.  But not much.  Park Lane Apartments will be officially tenant-free this Sunday.  So take action immediately! 
1.  Letters to the Mayor of Birmingham, Mayor of Mountain Brook, and City Council members.  
     A. Express your concern for the Lane Parke development, and that you insist it be sustainable and an example of smart growth – in every way!  And until that plan is up to par, the trees and buildings should still stand.   Attend city council meetings — this project has been delayed dozens of times so far.  Your voice counts!
    ***B.  TREE ORDINANCE – In many cities, there are strict regulations on killing a tree, even when on private property.  Write your Mayor, and insist that a smart tree ordinance be put into place as soon as possible.  (i.e. there is one sitting on the desk of the Mayor of Birmingham – let’s get it moving!)***    
          A.  Mountain Brook, Mayor Oden: lastvalhalla@aol.com
          B. Birmingham City Hall — Third Floor
          Office of City Council (and/or Office of Mayor)
          710 North 20th Street
          Birmingham, AL 35203
          (205) 254-2000
2.  Become a member of the Birmingham Botanical Garden.  This is an amazing resource.  Not only is it gorgeous, they offer great educational opportunities to the public, including the children of under-served areas.   They depend on our funding!
3.  Educate yourself.  Our planet needs all the voices it can get.  The more you know, the stronger your voice.  Read, discuss, and attend your local classes.  Smart growth, urban planning, sustainable living, tree care, are all good key words to put into Google.  
4.  Get to know a tree.  Climb one.  Sit under one.  Observe one.  We, as a culture, have lost our connection to these great beings.  Reclaim it.  And encourage your children to as well.  AND OF COURSE!  Plant at least one tree before you die.  The right tree in the right place please.
To conclude, I’m going to pass on a quote a friend sent me this week.  It struck a resounding chord.
“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods.  But He cannot save them from fools.”     — John Muir
Showing 2 comments
  • Lee Irwin

    I appreciate your courage, Katie. It takes guts to speak out in public against the status quo, but even more courage to admit when you've made a few mistakes along the way. I feel inspired by your vision of truly smart growth in our city as a model for other communities across the country.

    If Mobile and Huntsville have tree protection ordinances, why can't we? I'll write those letters to the mayor and council, but not until after I take a walk to see the trees.

  • Ariane Sims

    THANK YOU for sharing, caring and educating..a zealous advocate with a heart and mind of gold!

    Growth is here to stay — and Smart Growth is key. We CAN do it sustainably…

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