the return of the "Forest City"

Submitted by Susan Miller on Fri, 04/11/2008 - 09:55.

One of the things that is striking about Ohio is the large number of deciduous trees. I learned how dependent I am on these trees for many reasons not the least of which is a sense of place. We all have different visual and natural comfort zones. They may have to do with where we spent time as children. I know when I left Florida and came to Cleveland, I missed the Gulf Coast and being able to stand by the ocean. I also learned that I love the forest after having always lived where there are trees. On a drive across country via the deserts of the Southwest, across Texas and Oklahoma, Missouri and into Indiana, I realized that I finally felt comforted seeing forests on either side of the highway. I feel more comfortable when there is a canopy, and appreciate the shade of a large tree. The huge pin oak and the silver maple next to my house are my air conditioners, shielding the house from the sun in summer.

In urban areas, street trees provide a sense of place and Cleveland was once a "Forest City". This moniker has gone out of fashion, since the city became a concrete jungle, heavily populated with people who worked in the industrial boom that was spawned by the region's location at the confluence of Lake Erie and The Cuyahoga, but the moniker could return.

Previously I wrote about a project downtown across from City Hall at the Celebezze Federal Building that would be a sort of "display model" of what could be a renaissance in urban development for cities like Cleveland that are dealing with population loss as industry moves to other countries. The real model of smart growth for Cleveland is happening far away from East 9th and Lakeside in a less conspicuous place.

There are other cities in the world that have vast urban forests. These are parks with trails and wildlife areas for recreation. They have obvious benefits, reducing heat island effect, lowering ozone levels, etc. In Rio, the Tijuca Forest is an "iosphere reserve" and a Unesco World Heritage Site and is the largest forest in a city in the world. But Tijuca is 20 KM from the city center. In Moscow, Losiny Ostrov National Park is proclaimed to be the largest forest in a city of comparable size. But it is a national park. These national parks and restoration and conservation projects are huge, but here in Cleveland we have something small that is a first among nations - that is as far as we know.

Urban trees and urban forests like the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (33,000 acres) and the Cleveland Metroparks (21,000 acres) are the lungs of the city, but though money and maintenance and care go into them, cash profit does not come out.

 When trees are planted in the city, where do they come from? They come from some nursery outside the city most likely. Perhaps from Lake County or places even farther away, like Alabama and Georgia. Do we know if they will fare well in our neighborhoods, in our soil and water conditions? Arborists like Ralph Veverka aren't entirely sure about this inmigration of trees grown  elsewhere. So municipal arborists in Cleveland and its surrounds, should jump for joy to hear that soon there will be a source for city trees right in the city. They will be sure to grow in NEO conditions because they will have been raised here. They won't have to come from far away; they'll come from our very own city.

The acreage where these trees will be farmed is in an area recently dubbed the "Forgotten Triangle". The folks at Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. and planners at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative have teamed up to make a magnificent plan for an area that may have been "forgotten" by some, but has the opportunity to become a model for "shrinking cities" everywhere. You can check out the entire plan here: Ward 5 Forgotten Triangle Plan. Here's a preview map of the proposed tree farm:



Cleveland has been home to plenty of urban planning thought for some time. Norman Krumholz is widely known today for his groundbreaking Equity Planning, but this sort of thinking has been in our region before. Under Mayor Newton D. Baker in 1913, The NYTimes said of Cleveland, "The City of Cleveland Is to Try an Experiment in Modified Communism, and to provide for an Deliberate, Conscious and Orderly City Growth". (Several plans have been hijacked, like Burnham's visionary plan for downtown. Wouldn't it be nice to have trees on the mall?)

Now with manufacturing moving to other places, cities like Cleveland are reinventing themselves and once again Cleveland finds itself home to some of the brightest minds in the business. One such smart planner is Terry Schwarz of the CUDC.  Hearing her speak about work she had done with KSU CAED students in Youngstown a few years ago at the Levin College Forum series, I was mesmerized and couldn’t help but wonder if she was working her magic in Cleveland neighborhoods. Yes, sirree! She and her colleagues (Sean Burkholder, Urban Designer, Bryan Evans, Landscape Designer, David Reed, Senior Urban Designer and Gauri Torgalkar, Urban Designer) have done a bang-up, visionary plan for a place that some may have forgotten. They see an opportunity there – and it’s not ODOT’s “opportunity corridor” which would reduce air quality and depend on polluting fuels from roads and the vehicles that traverse them. It’s a green corridor. It will potentially sport the first ever urban tree nursery.

This summer, the feasibility study that is currently underway will let the folks at CUDC and Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. know just what they can expect from this green venture. The feasibility study is taking into consideration such things as:

  • What will be the best trees to grow and what is the best method to grow them?
  • What will be the most appropriate market niche for our farm?
  • What critical mass is needed to eventually become profitable?
  • What is the startup cost and what finances will be needed to get to a breakeven point?
  • How can we maximize the tree farm’s benefit to the community?
  • What is the total economic impact and potential of this venture?

“My guess is that it is going to take somewhere between 1.2 to 2 million dollars to create and sustain the farm to the point where it becomes a self-sufficient enterprise.  It will be a very small price to pay for a national inner-city green enterprise model. I see this becoming a tourist destination or at minimum, one of the must-see places in Cleveland for green-conscious visitors of our city. It will put unutilized land into productive use, beautify the streetscape of the neighborhood, create a new and unique sense of place in Cleveland, put residents into the workforce on a purposeful cause and in their own community, and become another world renowned asset of Cleveland.”, said Tim Tramble, Executive Director of Burten, Bell, Carr. He’s jazzed about this and you can see why.

I see this as the best news in years for Cleveland. For me this is bigger than the medmart/convention center and the port move. It is not a big top-down, heavily tax subsidized venture that relies on people outside our region, but a home grown, grassroots (or tree roots if you will) small venture. But let’s not worry about size right now. Size is relative. The Celebrezze Plaza may have 100+ trees, but at 400 trees per acre, and 20 acres or more in Kinsman’s urban tree farm, that’s nothing to sneeze at – that’s a potential 8,000 trees for NEO; it's work for folks in the neighborhood, and a new green industry for Cleveland. Cleveland could become the Forest City once again. One thing’s for sure, if this comes to fruition, this small triangle of land will no longer be forgotten.

When I heard Norm Krumholz speak at the National Cityscapes Conference, he was realistic. He said, “I am not going to be optimistic or pessimistic, but realistic.” After years of struggling to “make Equity Planning work", he did seem however more than a bit downtrodden and veered closer to pessimism than optimism. He also said that cities are not going away, that we have to find solutions for them because manufacturing is not coming back to these rusbelt cities. I told him that he should not worry because young planners like Terry and visionary developers like Tim Tramble and staff would be turning over new ground very soon.

This is how we change the rules and apply suicide interventions. This is how we take our parent’s “finite game” (the one where someone wins and someone loses and it’s “game over”) and adjust the rules so we can keep playing. This is an infinite game – one that never ends. It’s making lemonade. It’s good news for Cleveland.

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this is incredibly fine stuff

This is some incredibly fine stuff you're writing these days. Thank you.

Our soils

  Northeast Ohio soils are suited to tree production.  It's a no-brainer.  Michael Hough talks about city lungs in his book City Form and Natural Process.

trees down south/redbud and Moses Cleveland

I have subscribed to an interesting listserve sponsored by TreeLink. It is called "urbNRnet". Here foresters and arborists email daily about tree related issues.

Yesterday we received this news, "We would like to share a history story about the ancient live oaks along the MS Gulf Coast that survived the  hurricanes. A good example of placing historic value on trees. Enjoy."

The tree in the photograph above is one I always stop to visit when driving from Atlanta down to Tallahassee. That tree is approximately 326 years old. Here's their description, "A massive Live Oak (Quercus Virginiana, c. 1680) with a limb span of 162 feet, the Big Oak is one of the National Live Oak Society’s original members, enrolled in 1936.  President Eisenhower was so impressed with the Big Oak tree that he personally photographed it during one of his visits to Thomasville!  This tree is truly a living treasure of our city’s heritage."
Southerners take their trees seriously.

The tree in the linked video is 500 years old.  Both trees were here long before my Ulster Irish (or Scots Irish) ancestors arrived in 1720. Imagine what they have witnessed! I wonder if the heritage thing is related to how long so many of these families have live in North America, but that's another post.

A week or so ago I heard Carolyn Strauss speak about slowlab. She told a wonderful story about an old building on the campus of Oxford or Cambridge in the UK (she admitted she could not remember). This building was ancient and it needed repair in a serious way. In one room there were large oak timbers that would have to be replaced. “Where in the world will we find such huge timbers?”, they wondered. Walking outside the structure they mentioned this problem to the gardener. He said, "Not to worry, we have those trees right here." Indeed the builders had foreseen this problem and the future need and planted the trees that would be needed to replace the beams. The knowledge had been passed down via the gardening staff for 500 years! Now that's long term thinking - that's sustainability.

I have heard of what are called Moses Cleveland Trees in Northeast Ohio. Does anyone know about these, where they are and the stories behind them?

One more thing... It doesn't have to be Arbor Day to plant a tree. Today is as good as any other to begin to think where and when you might plant a tree. Oh yes, and my redbud is adorned in glorious pink/purple blossoms. How are your trees today?


I have seen book which has specific photos and locations (town) of the largest tree of many species resident in Ohio.  I will try to find it again.  I think I know who to ask....

logistical rail service

Railroad tracks are owned by the company that operates the railroad.

The land is owned by them and so are the bridges the pass offer and under, the are privately owned.

The railroad pays taxes on that land.

How is this relative?

Take a look at the map follow and study the tracks the many eventually converge, they are often in fact redundant.

What if they were not and if all the tracks were managed by a separate logistical company and then leases them to any one that wanted to use them?

Then they could remove many of the tracks and the make perfect parkways, trail ways.

The entire section of rail in the diagram of the original post has tracks that run east west, those are GCRTA tracks that from Shaker connect to or converge with other GCRTA tracks further west.

The track are not redundant but cross over many roads and the GCRTA spent millions repairing the many bridges and will someday have to repair them again. Those track could have been redirected center line down Buckeye and connected much closer to the GCRTA they eventually connect with. Then all those bridges would not have had to been repaired and that pathway could be converted to a park. A park next to an extension of the Shaker GCRTA line that meet the other line just before Woodland.

The other tracks running north and south north of Holton become redundant with other tracks less than 1000 ft to the west of them, these pairs that run north and south all the way to Miles do not go in different directions until after miles and are redundant.

This is not enough to simply look at a few sets it must be done for the whole county, to reduce the bridges, to reduce the number of tracks and the inherent redundancy. To create green corridors that span and connect some me even be converted to commuter lines. Perhaps green walking clusters of housing on rail?

Consolidate line for commercial seeking opportunity for commercial hubs, where they are closest to the interstate, for intermodal transport, for warehousing and distribution.

The key is mapping it and then totally the cost of providing rail services and what of that is in turn municipal revenue as in property taxes. That could be converted to lease fees and the establishment of a logistical rail service for both commuter and commercial traffic that charges lease fees for the use of the tracks. Much like the airport, directing multiple carries in and out.

A more efficient system with lower long term costs, it would have less tracks and less infrastructure. It would relinquish land to park systems and also municipalities, it would be a well defined model integrated transport in a modern American city, basically a long over do upgrade.