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Hudlin's Huddle => Hudlin's Huddle => Topic started by: Reginald Hudlin on May 24, 2009, 09:21:34 am

Title: Vision of a lush, green South Toni Ann Johnson (from the LA Times)
Post by: Reginald Hudlin on May 24, 2009, 09:21:34 am

Visions of a lush, green South L.A.

It takes time for new ideas to take root -- even when it's as simple as planting trees in a neighborhood smothered by concrete.
By Toni Ann Johnson
May 24, 2009

My initial interest in trees was selfish. I'd read that they boosted property value, and Trees for a Green LA was giving them free to homeowners who agreed to take a mandatory class in tree planting and care. It was only an hour. A free boost in property value was worth that.

The workshop was held in the Westchester Community Center and taught by a handsome, longhaired Latino in his late 20s. The passion and pride with which this young man taught us the benefits of trees moved me. Erudite and eloquent, he described his immigrant grandfather, a gardener, as someone who though not formally educated had great respect for the Earth and had become an arborist. As he spoke of the beauty of planting a young tree, nurturing it to maturity, basking in its shade, purified air and divine loveliness, it was as if a new spirit took root inside me.

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He showed us images of tree-lined streets in Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Bel-Air and explained that one of the hallmarks of wealthy areas was an abundance of green space. Low-income areas, on the other hand, have little respite from concrete. Greening a community, he suggested, was a path to revitalization. Tree-lined areas attract businesses and home buyers; they enhance communities and improve quality of life.

I left the workshop a convert. Soon known as the Tree Lady of my South Los Angeles neighborhood, I passed out fliers promoting Trees for a Green LA, and I encouraged others to plant away. My neighbors, mostly retired, were skeptical. They cautioned about the damage trees would cause to my plumbing.

Zora, diminutive and in her late 70s, shook her finger at me. "Be careful what you plant in front of your house. Those roots gon' grow up your toilet and scratch you on the butt." Thurman, also retired, marched out frowning as my spouse dug the hole for our new bottle brush tree. "That red mess gonna end up on my lawn?" he asked, already certain of the answer. The boys down the street laughed at the new trees and called them twigs. But as they began to flourish, people complimented them. A neighbor on the next block took the class and got a tree, and one of her neighbors across the street did the same.

Greening the street remained a battle, though. At one of our block-club meetings, a neighbor who had elegant, mature trees on her parkway asked for help finding out how to have them cut down. The roots were cracking her driveway. Another neighbor griped about how the trees attracted birds that defecated on her car.

In 2007, I managed to get nine trees planted on either side of my block. Today, three of those trees are dead, and one is dying. It pains me, but five of them are still thriving. That's five more than we had. I try to look on the bright side, otherwise I'd wither and die myself.

A negative attitude toward trees is not uncommon in South L.A. And to be fair, most of the issues my neighbors warned me about were true. But I still love trees. I still believe my community would thrive more if we had more of them. And I'm not alone. There are people here who recognize the benefits and who want the trees, but it's such a struggle to enlighten and move the nonbelievers that sometimes we want to give up, or at least take a break.

For two years I tried to get our local Ralphs to plant trees on the sidewalk in front of the store. I offered to work with a nonprofit that would cut the concrete, plant and provide the trees for free. All the store would have to do was water them. But the director of store operations declined. The store refused to take responsibility for watering the trees. This seems unjust, considering that the Westside Ralphs markets I drive past all seem to have irrigation systems. I did a survey of all the Ralphs within a 10-mile radius of ours, and the only other store I could find with no green space was also in South L.A.

I keep at it, though, despite the odds of victory seeming slim, because I love South L.A. I love the people here, and I envision a lush and beautiful community where trees and people can flourish.

Toni Ann Johnson is the Humanitas Prize-winning screenwriter of the films "Crown Heights" and "Ruby Bridges." She is a neighborhood council board member in Southwest Los Angeles.
Title: Re: Vision of a lush, green South Toni Ann Johnson (from the LA Times)
Post by: Hypestyle on May 24, 2009, 12:30:02 pm
A very excellent article, hopefully her efforts will take root (pun intended). there is some movement for similar green-based initiatives in Detroit, including a potential remodeling of the city.. but it will likely face the same obstacles.. of key interest is education of an extremely skeptical urban public.,,,

I believe that many of us folks who have grown up in starkly urban environs have become socialized to think of our immediate surroundings as the only way things could/should be.  We believe that smokestacks and smog equals civilization.  The much greener suburbs/exurbs are 'the boondocks' and 'the sticks' at best; Klan-land at the worst..  Environmental activism has become synonymous with the "tree-hugger" cliche' of relatively affluent caucasians who insist on all-organic foods, don't use deoderant and whose toilet paper probably has wood-flakes in it.  Dilapidated urban parks have become more known as hang-outs for the homeless or thugs/gangs, and not much is thought of it.

in particular for Detroit, the population has hemmoraged over the decades to the point where there is less than half the population than the city had in the mid-1950s-- and dropping.  News reports indicate as much as 30% or more of landspace in the city is vacant.  Public schools designed to serve 2,000 students now serve 400.  Many neighborhood blocks have half the houses they used to, and not all that remain are even livable due to abandonment. Long-defunct factories, empty warehouses, burnt-out storefronts, and condemned apartment complexes still stand as glaring eyesores, and are also ripe for not just innocuous squatters, but criminal types doing drug business and predators who may take victims there. The gaps in population density make it tougher on having a regular police presence everywhere (in a city of shrinking budgets/deficits).  Decaying water mains breaking is a regular occurrence; the rationale against proactive infrastructure reform is that the city tax-base isn't sufficient to cover the costs of a radical overhaul.

If the ongoing crisis for American automakers hasn't sent the message home, the era of being a high school graduate/GED holder (or at one point, even a dropout) and then segueing into a family-supporting career at a steel/parts/assembly factory is done.  It just is.  There is no mass-manufacturing movement that attracted black folks (and others) in droves to Detroit and elsewhere.  People here have to accept that the population won't ever be what it was.  It's way past time to embrace new industries, and seek resources to provide the training for adults and younger people to get involved.  Part of that involves thinking outside the box for creative uses of available land.  City schools should have plots of land to work on with students for credit-- push curriculums in schools stressing agriculture, soil science, botany, forestry, urban planning, etc.  Why not have produce farms, why not have forest preserves, why not have some bikes-only paths?

Unfortunately, once the more cynical, jaded, and uneducated sorts in local leadership/activism get introduced to ideas like urban farming, shutting down depopulated neighborhoods, and "re-greening" in general, the tendency is to start accusations of suburban land-grab, or "they want to turn Detroit into a Plantation" which adds a totally unnecessary racialized spin to redevelopment efforts..  Of course, if one is to look at this through the lens of African-American history, agrarian-based skill sets were common to our ancestors but were generationally lost as the industrialization boom manifested.

My apologies to Mr. Reggie for going overboard...   ;)
Title: Re: Vision of a lush, green South Toni Ann Johnson (from the LA Times)
Post by: Reginald Hudlin on May 24, 2009, 01:29:30 pm
No apologies needed.  These are the kinds of statements meant to generate your level of response.