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Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors

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    Bottom: Installing “reduced” sidewalks—pavement with cutouts to allow room for tree roots—have significantly reduced broken pavement and made Hyde Park a more walkable neighborhood.

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    Top: In Los Angeles's Hyde Park neighborhood, buckled, cracked sidewalks such as this were a common eyesore. Photos: George Gonzalez

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    Tree roots can turn a city sidewalk into an impassable mess of broken-up concrete.

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Tree replacement, he advises, should be a last resort. Residents tend to get very attached to their trees—especially the well-established ones—so removal tends to attract angry phone calls from constituents. Environmental regulations mandate that foresters pay close attention to whether emoval affects nests or habitats—which could draw unwanted attention from the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.

Similarly, you should keep an eye on sidewalks to ensure they continue to offer the most value to residents, without posing a trip/fall hazard. In Los Angeles, crews decide a sidewalk should be repaired if the pavement has been vertically displaced by at least ¼ inch. High-use areas, such as school zones, shopping areas, hospitals, places of worship, or any place with a significant trip hazard, get top priority.

Forming A Solution

Los Angeles's foresters rely on evaluation forms to help keep tabs on trees and walks. These documents help them decide whether a sidewalk or tree needs to be fixed or replaced. The advantage of using the documents is twofold: it helps them prioritize maintenance and replacement efforts, and the documentation provides recorded justification, should constituents complain when a tree is removed.

These forms, the first two developed by Gonzalez, include:

  • Tree Evaluation Form: includes information about location, size, physical condition, and recommended remediation.
  • Tree Hazard Evaluation Form: This document follows standards set forth by the International Society of Arboculture to gauge potential for failure.

While remediation helps improve aesthetic, community, and economic benefits that healthy trees and sidewalks provide, Gonzalez stresses that cities need to start thinking ahead—and we have a long way to go.

“Mitigation efforts are valuable, but we have yet to get city planners, developers, municipal arborists, and landscape architects together,” he says. “The city of the future needs to be designed to maximize these benefits. We're not there yet.”