update: old beech is dead

July 10, 2006

in Urban issues

Do you remember the beautiful old beech tree I wrote about, the one that was being exposed by the building of trails in a new park? I had feared the woods would be ruined by invasive species and drying winds as one side of it was opened up to build soccer fields.  The beech, I figured, would be defaced by pen-knife yielding initial-carvers.

Well, we returned recently and things were worse than I expected.  The one side is indeed opened up, and facing acres and acres of mowed soccer fields, all empty even on a glorious summer day.  I’ve come to learn this huge park was rammed down the throats of taxpayers, who protested the $3 million price tag, especially considering that there was no money in the budget to operate the park!

What appear in the master plan as “fishing ponds” are actually retention basins, which drain into the lovely woods. Click to enlarge this photo: those are Cedar Waxwings landing on the thick smelly algae mat catching flies.

Cedwscuzz

Another side of the forest is open as well, not to the park, but to a new subdivision.  Here is that side, where that glorious beech tree once stood.  That’s right.  It was cut down, along with a few acres of it’s neighbors.

Rawedge

Here come the marching rows of sterile McMansions, with prices in the”mid-$500s.”

Mcmansions2

I’ll add that this community is legendary for bigfoot homes furnished with lawn chairs — the only thing people can afford after being lured to the “good life.” Recall our economy in the auto capital of the world isn’t too hot right now, and foreclosure rates and bankruptcies have skyrocketed.

How ironic is it that there are miles of vacant space in the city of Detroit, where there were real communities once, yet we still continue to destroy our natural heritage to build unaffordable, unsustainable, featureless housing further and further from the city center? There was an excellent post at the DetroitYes forum:

The McMansion phenomenon is indicative of an economic system that is built on cheap credit, cheap land, and cheap oil. It is set up for this system and we are all subsidizing it. The size of the house is  inversely proportional to the amount of community. Community in the exurbs is expressed as conformity, the same size house, the SUV, and everything is “taupe.” As real community decreases, the size of the house increases as a way for the homeowner to compensate for the lack of connection they have to their surroundings, they are in effect, building their own little worlds.

A true urban residence would not have to be huge because a person would be spending more of their time in public spaces with neighbors, not in a traffic jam alone in a Hummer, or a “great room” watching a 54” plasma presenting the latest reality show.

Poverty isn’t just for poor folks anymore, but for the middle-class who succumb to materialism, who equate being rich with “stuff” rather than the things that enrich one’s soul, such as the ability to touch the smooth bark of a beech tree decades older than yourself.


{ 11 comments }

Tom Andersen July 10, 2006 at 11:36 am

That's a scandal. And the houses are hideous, to boot. Aren't there any civic groups or activists with influence out there?

John July 10, 2006 at 12:10 pm

How sad!

Nuthatch July 10, 2006 at 2:12 pm

This would have been worse, believe it or not, if not for the efforts of the Johnson Creek Protection Group. Johnson Creek runs through these properties, and is the last/only coldwater creek in southeast Michigan. Michigan wetland laws do not go far enough to protect small wetlands and hardly anything to protect the important surrounding upland areas, so even strong groups like JCPG don't have enough to work with. Despite all the protections I have read about for the creek for these developments, I feel sure that the water quality, temperature, and ecosystem functions of this creek will be negatively impacted. If I'm still blogging in a few years, you will certainly get updates.

Dendroica July 10, 2006 at 3:09 pm

What's a "coldwater creek"? (aside from the obvious)

Nuthatch July 10, 2006 at 3:26 pm

It's…the obvious. It's fed by springs along the route which cool the water and contribute to it's ability to sustain brown trout, which are stocked in the creek. It also had a lot of interesting and uncommon (for this area) native small fish, mussels and invertebrates.

Timothy Colman July 11, 2006 at 2:02 am

Easy to point fingers and say — oh those folks in Michigan — they can't organize to protect wetlands — forests, etc…

The power of this story on trees, paving wetlands, and destruction of habitat while fine land exists in Detroit proper is this: wetlands are getting destroyed everywhere. The easy land has been developed.

And cheap land, cheap oil, and fear of black people are keys to changing this pattern in the world.

The fear of middle class whites and blacks relocating inside the City of Detroit because it is a big black city — plays right into developers desires to build roads, cut down trees, and destroy habitat.

Even now– in the dying days of the automobile culture — that extra mile of highway we subsidize with our tax dollars to ease congestion perversely feeds the beast.

And the phenomenon is happening across the country.

Here in the Northwest, developers are going after strong growth management laws — gutting model law in Oregon, and putting initiatives to gut growth management in Washington and Idaho this fall.

They don't say "We want to build strip malls and McMansions in forest and fields" but instead let old farmer ladies look people in the eye on TV advts and say " All we want is for government to give us fair value for this old farm we can't subdivide."

Forget about clean water for us, fish and wildlife habitat, or other inconveniences. This is all about flipping farmland for profits as fast as you can.

The mercenaries in suits and ties who are doing this dirty work are some of the finest lobbyists — including AAA — a pro sprawl organization that doesn't get enough attention, lawyers, and overall nice guys. They are us.

And that my friends is our hope– because we can change, and in changing ourselves, change our neighbors, influence the development lawyers, your politicians, and change the world.

Roger B. July 11, 2006 at 5:48 am

How sad.

Mike July 11, 2006 at 10:46 am

Great post on a less than great sign of the times. The road to hell may or may not be paved with good intentions, but it's almost certainly lined with McMansions.

Nuthatch July 11, 2006 at 10:58 am

Well said, Timothy and Mike.

Laura July 14, 2006 at 1:34 am

Those empty soccer fields (what a waste of space; *open space* they call it here) and neighborhoods of McMansions devoid of children playing anywhere but inside in front of a tv or pc – all very foolish.

Sad that your beech is gone – will anyone but you miss it?

Stephen Mackenzie July 24, 2006 at 3:26 pm

Ah, how awful. The wasteful and silly side of capitalism without a doubt.

Here in Helensburgh (Scotland) we have a well protected green belt, but neglected green space within the town is now being threatened by idiotic local developers, despite suitable "brown field" land existing closer to the town centre.

Not on the same scale as Detroit, of course, but still a worry. At least some of your woods survive…

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