[Landscape Northwest]
March 31, 1998

Urbanizing the green spirit of our region

Special to the Journal

Many landscape professionals, government agency staff members, citizens and corporate volunteers are doing their part to invite back some of the green that has been crowded out of the region.

King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties have grown by nearly 300,000 people since 1990 and continuing growth could bring up to a million additional residents here within the next 20 years. Much of this growth will be accommodated close to existing urban centers, but the effects of urbanization will be felt in communities of all sizes throughout western Washington.

It is no wonder that we as taxpayers have been asked to help pay for preservation of some of the remaining natural areas on the outer edges of urban centers.

People don't move here for the shopping malls and the freeway experience. They come for jobs but also for the aesthetics of the natural setting and recreational opportunities.

In the past eight years, King County alone has spent over $100 million acquiring land and trails to preserve green belts and open spaces in the region. Other programs, such as Waterways 2000, the Regional Trail System, and the Public Benefit Rating System (a tax-incentive program), are helping to preserve the natural and aesthetic values of the Puget Sound basin.

Rivers, streams, wetlands and forests once considered to be in the way of development are now protected by sensitive areas ordinances and by concerned citizens groups willing to devote time and energy in stewarding those resources.

And a number of projects have been undertaken to restore earlier "improvement" efforts by public agencies. Straightened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this century into an artificial slough, a section of the Sammamish River will be restored by the City of Redmond, with the help of Worthy and Associates, to a meandering, slow-moving river that was home to fish and wildlife for millennia.

Maintaining and enhancing the physical characteristics of a locale requires preserving and/or repairing natural vegetation and habitat zones. The environmental benefits are well known. From forests of trees as air cleaners to wetlands as water purifiers, we have come to acknowledge the values of natural systems. Recreational advantages are gained as well.

What steps can we take to connect the "Emerald City" to the outer green spaces that are being purchased or restored at such expense? What can we do to maintain the spirit of our natural landscape within our urban centers?

What steps can we take to connect the "Emerald City" to the outer green spaces that are being purchased or restored at such expense?

One answer is the City of Seattle Street Tree Master Plan, developed by Worthy and Associates. For the visual benefits and horticultural health of the city's urban forest, 480 miles of Seattle's arterial streets, neighborhood districts, and city parks were inventoried. Trees were computer-coded, based on type, size and conditions, and opportunities for new plantings were noted.

The Master Plan also outlines maintenance and management guidelines, integrates the use of street trees into the neighborhood Urban Village planning process, and underscores the importance of volunteer work in planting and maintaining trees. A Heritage Tree Program is part of this plan, a program that will acknowledge and celebrate trees that define and grace our older neighborhoods.

Volunteer organizations such as TREEmendous Seattle, the Tree Stewards, Plant Amnesty, ReTree Ballard, Seattle Tilth, etc., also work to ensure a green urban environment. A number of these groups specifically work to improve vegetation by removing invasive species and planting native trees. Within King County are efforts such as the Native Plant Salvage Program, Urban Reforestation and Habitat Restoration Program, Naturescaping for Urban Communities, the Master Gardener Program, and many, many more.

Volunteers who work for these groups do more than their fair share toward keeping Seattle and its surroundings the kind of environment that recalls our heritage as a city that grew where great forests once stood.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia has mandated that environmental education be part of the school curriculum. This means children will be exposed to a variety of natural systems as part of their K-12 education. Arbor Day, Earth Day, Salmon Homecoming and Salmon Release are among the special events celebrated annually by local school children. Many educational programs within the city -- such as the Environmental Education Center at Discovery and Carkeek parks, the Arboretum and the Center for Urban Horticulture -- also provide programs for students, and adults as well. The Earth Service Corps and Explorer Outpost groups work with high school students to encourage them in stewarding the city's resources.

All of us are responsible for our immediate surroundings. We have a choice about what we leave as our legacy: sprawling pavement or a balance of natural and built conditions. The more effort we make to improve the visual and physical qualities of our region, the better an inheritance we will leave for our children and the more opportunities we will create for the huge numbers of residents who are here and still to arrive.

Diane Steen is a landscape architect. Steve Worthy is a landscape architect and principal of Worthy and Associates.

Copyright © 1998 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.