It Just Might Work: Urban reforestation

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by Eric Ginsburg

Our cities have way too much dead space. Empty, decaying buildings litter overdeveloped strips, deteriorating our public image. And surface parking lots are even worse offenders. But I have an idea.

Let’s take some of our dilapidated, underutilized properties and restore them. But not like the Cascade Saloon in Greensboro or Plant 64 in Winston-Salem, two preservation projects that I fully support. No, I’m talking about returning things to the way they once were, long before somebody tried to turn a profit on the land.

Bring back the forest. Even if it’s in little pockets — or maybe especially if it’s in little pockets — I’d like to see a return of densely forested areas in the middle of our urban environments.

To clarify, I’m not talking about more public parks per se, though I’m envisioning land that is open to the public. This wouldn’t be anything that required a mower, re-sodding or a beautification budget, at least not after the start-up costs.

Environmental organizations do things like this — buying up land to protect it from encroachment — but to my knowledge nobody is intentionally reforesting developed land, especially in urban areas.

The benefits are difficult to quantify, but I started thinking about this after a conversation in which I reminisced about growing up with a small patch of woods behind my house. Presumably because of the sharp incline, the plot immediately behind my childhood home remained unscathed by suburbanization, providing a lush environment for my neighbor and me to build the most tremendous forts.

Few people in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point have that opportunity today, and most of the pockets of nature are relegated to the outskirts of town or are tightly regulated.

Real forests take hundreds of years to grow, so this is definitely a long-term proposition. And it will take some serious work on the front end — I’m not talking about just letting the natural wilderness take over, but actively planting trees that will become giants.

While there is plenty of development happening in the Triad that is easy to get excited about, we would all benefit from urban reforestation on whatever scale we could manage. It’s been said by Edward Abbey that growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell. Trees, plants and wilderness for their own sake, though… nothing seems more logical.