Best idea: Valuing public investment in public greenery

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GARY SCHEIPETER
PUBLIC WORKS SUPERINTENDENT
CLAYTON, MO.

Though only 2.5 square miles, this inner-ring suburb of St. Louis has 9,000 public trees. But from incorporation in 1913 until about 14 years ago, the City of Clayton's Forestry and Grounds Department cared for these assets without the benefit of a proactive plan.

Until Gary Scheipeter came along. He and his staff of three graduate foresters and three certified arborists developed an Urban Forestry Master Plan that establishes a five-year trimming rotation schedule; outlines trimming procedures, planting, removal, and replacement guidelines; provides a list of species from which residents can choose replacements; decrees 100% recycling of waste into lumber or mulch; and assesses the city's arboreal worth: $20 million.

“In 2005, we created a complete street tree inventory as part of the plan,” says Scheipeter, who also oversees parking, roadway maintenance, signals and lighting, and signing and striping. “Later this year, we'll apply for a matching grant for up to $10,000 from the Missouri Department of Conservation. We'd use the money to map all our trees with a GIS locator.”

Without an inventory, a community's often at a complete loss after severe ice storms or tornadoes, as happened in Joplin, Mo., in May. Many communities also fail to appreciate the value of their trees until a disease or insect — like the current threat of emerald ash borer — attacks. Scheipeter's advance planning anticipates and minimizes these risks.

The city takes great pride in the beauty and variety of trees, plantings, and perennials; and its forestry operation has received many awards. In 2010, the American Planning Association named Wydown Boulevard one of the nation's top 10 Great Streets.