Not too long ago, I found myself walking down a leafy street in Greenwood. I noticed and saw all sorts of interesting things. I noticed there were no kids on the streets. I saw lots of middle-aged gardeners removing weeds and keeping other plants in check. I came across a house with a giant sequoia in its lawn. The thing dwarfed the house and a woman who was gardening next to it. I asked the women if she knew the age of the giant, and almost immediately perceived she hated the tree. She wanted it cut down and removed from her little world. She did not know its damn age. It was there when she bought the house long ago. It would probably still be there when her days were done.
I asked if she was not on good terms big tree (maybe the size was too much? maybe she wanted a better view?), and she said she certainly was not; but what the hell could she do about it? Her neighbors would go nuts if she turned it into fire wood; she would be the talk of her neighborhood's online chat group. The tree stood there not listening to her. It had growing on its mind. The sun was bright in the sky and the tree's leaves—the points at which light, water, and air became the stuff of life—were moving up and down in the afternoon breeze. The gardener went back to her digging.
I saw other big trees in this neighborhood and thought about those homeowners in West Seattle who jumped at the opportunity to clear a bunch of trees from a slope. They wanted better views. Views can increase the value of a house. 150 trees met their maker. Did these men and women reveal the real feeling most homeowners have for trees? In my experience, middle-class people generally hate anything that grows and grows.
Which brings me to NIMBYs. Do they really love trees in, say, the way I do? Or are they simply using them in their holy war against change? Their story is: developers must stay away from single-family zones because they kill trees, they are destroying the canopy, and so on. "Seattle's Long-Neglected Tree Canopy Is On A Collision Course With Development," declared Adiel Kaplan. NIMBYs love to read and share stories like this. And it's easy to see why. In this narrative, developers are, like pioneer loggers, greedy and destructive. They hate nature. They love money. Here, NIMBYs assume the appearance of natives who are in harmony with nature. It's not about protecting the value of their homes; it's about their deep respect for what in Lion King is called "the circle of life." In this frame of mind, a white homeowner can look in a mirror and see Chief Seattle.
But there is nothing that says human density is incompatible with urban forest density. This point was clearly made by the former news editor of this paper, Josh Feit, in the post "Candid Canopy." He writes: "The Seattle Office of Sustainability & the Environment’s 2016 Seattle Tree Canopy Assessment found that my neighborhood [the heart of Capitol Hill, which has the highest density per square mile] is in the section of the city with the highest percentage of canopy coverage, 36 percent canopy coverage." The city can become denser and greener at the same time. So, are NIMBYs using trees like certain terrorists use children and peasants as human shields? I just find it hard to believe that they really feel deeply about anything but property values and the maintenance of middle-class standards. Homeownership can harden your heart.