Disrupt the Street Tree, the Re-Oaking of Silicon Valley
January 22, 2018 9:33 PM   Subscribe

"Three hundred years ago, to walk from the site of the modern-day Apple Campus in Cupertino to the bayshore site of the modern-day Google headquarters in Mountain View would take about four hours. You would start in an oak savanna at Calabazas Creek on the west edge of Tamien Ohlone tribal lands, walk west through oak woodland and chaparral to Stevens Creek, then turn north to follow the waterway through oak woodland and oak savanna, until the water fanned out into willow woodlands and the lazy water of the south Bay near the Ramaytush Ohlone village of Puichon."

"On the walk, and in the entire Silicon Valley, you would have encountered fewer than 20 species of trees. Lord among them would have been the oak. 80 percent of the trees in Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Cupertino were oak trees. Another 13 percent of the trees were those commonly found alongside oak trees in oak woodlands: buckeye, madrone, sycamore, and California bay laurel. Willows, alders, and redwoods rounded out the final 7 percent. Today there are something like 400 species of trees in Silicon Valley. Oak trees, mostly coast live oak, make up about 4 percent of the total."

Checkout Resilient Silicon Valley, a project of the San Francisco Estuary Institute to build the science-based framework needed to guide the design of and investments in regional ecosystem health. Learn more about Re-Oaking Silicon Valley.

If you live here, maybe plant an oak tree with Our City Forest. Or even just plant an acorn.
posted by Long Way To Go (23 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm fine with native species, but Christ you would never want a live oak as a street tree. Not unless you love the idea of anything taller than a pickup smashing into low branches.
posted by Ferreous at 10:03 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


I love this so much - thanks for sharing. Having grown up in the Bay Area, I miss the giant oak trees of my childhood. It feels like the paving-over and homogenization of Bay Area lands happened so quickly, it's a shame that there aren't great photos of the once mighty oak trees and chaparral. It's a pleasant surprise to see that Apple and Google are the ones who have taken active measures to bring back these landscapes. If only our city governments could really take action here.

For the record, I absolutely hate London plane trees. They shed their brittle leaves with abandon and look disheveled and sickly with their splotchy bark.
posted by hampanda at 10:15 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm fine with native species, but Christ you would never want a live oak as a street tree

You know that cities have parks departments, yes? In New Orleans, we don t always have running water but the parks department cuts branches. Oaks are amazing for shade and storm protection. My grandad raised Oaks to shield his house, and boasts of never having to re shingle the roof from wind or hail
posted by eustatic at 10:41 PM on January 22, 2018 [15 favorites]


It feels like the paving-over and homogenization of Bay Area lands happened so quickly

Arguably, this is a case of human settlement decreasing homogenization. And given recent epidemic trends, it seems like it might be a good thing to diversify?

Oaks are amazing for shade and storm protection.

I'm not sure that's a priority in the bay area, where temperatures are regulated by oceans pretty effectively, and thunderstorms are rare.
posted by pwnguin at 10:57 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm fine with native species, but Christ you would never want a live oak as a street tree. Not unless you love the idea of anything taller than a pickup smashing into low branches.

I *totally* love this idea, especially after multiple inicdents involving delivery box trucks tearing out infrastructure cables to my and my neighbor's house, up to and including pulling soffits off undereaves.

City and utility trucks would shape the branch growth, and scared and underpaid box truck driving motherfuckers would STOP TEARING OUR CABLES OUT and splitting.

Of course, my anti-tree neighbor would prolly just cut all his down.
posted by mwhybark at 11:00 PM on January 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure that's a priority in the bay area, where temperatures are regulated by oceans pretty effectively, and thunderstorms are rare.

The article directly addresses what are the attributes of native oaks that make them important for the Bay Area:

"A coast live oak sequesters more carbon than many other common urban trees and twice as much as a London plane, according to data from the Center for Urban Forest Research Tree Carbon Calculator. Oaks tolerate drought yet draw up more runoff than many other trees in heavy rain. Oaks host diverse California wildlife. In the re-oaking report Spotswood paid close attention to the benefits of oak trees to acorn woodpeckers, oak titmice, and mournful duskywing and California sister butterflies."
posted by hampanda at 12:00 AM on January 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed
posted by unliteral at 4:41 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Who cares about Silicon Valley? There's a whole city nearby that's named for the oak tree.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:01 AM on January 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


you would never want a live oak as a street tree

Don't tell that to the people back east, for whom the Live Oak is the predominant street tree.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:18 AM on January 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


The fundamental problem with the Valley's development is that it's a bunch of "cities" made up of suburbs, wide roads and office parks where it is easier for Tyrell Corporation Google to build a lovely little forest on its campus than for Mountain View to build housing and amenities at sufficient scale and density and character that Google employees might want to live there instead of taking the bus from SF. The linked piece acknowledges this: city governments have to do more than accommodate the private companies and their private ecological oases.
posted by holgate at 7:00 AM on January 23, 2018


The majority of the independent plant nurseries where I live carry mostly native trees. I don't think people will ever stop choosing fruit vs native (totally different goals) trees but when the goal is 'shade' then native vs non-native is a pretty easy choice. The bigger problem in my opinion is the anti-tree people, who cut everything down because it cracks a sidewalk, patio or foundation, or they are concerned about maintenance or branches falling and litigation.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:21 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


If this is a way to get rid of all the liquidambar trees hereabouts then I am for it.
posted by GuyZero at 7:45 AM on January 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


that Google employees might want to live there instead of taking the bus from SF.

Google employees who live in SF are not doing it for the trees any more than they are doing it for the easy parking options.
posted by mark k at 8:07 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Locally the city is cutting down elms as they get sick, and replanting with river birch at times, oaks or buckeyes too, but... seems to be a lot of streets where they replant with ginkgo. Which is fine I guess, they are nice enough trees, but from a shade perspective? No way can a ginkgo offer the same shade that a mature elm used to. The canopy just isn't built the same way.

The oaks will be great, I keep telling myself, in another 60-70 years.

That's the other bit urban planners keep forgetting. Trees are never an instant solution; what is cut down today will take decades to replace, so the saws should be used rarely and carefully.

I have no respect for idiots who mow down a forested suburban lot to plant ugly McMansions, so poorly laid out that 90% of the usable space on the block is wasted (yet the houses are still so close together that they almost touch!) then surround them with spindly new plantings of non-native stuff that will maybe look nice by the time the homeowner's kid retires.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:51 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


No way can a ginkgo offer the same shade that a mature elm used to. The canopy just isn't built the same way.

Yeah, the HUGE carob tree in front of our house got cut down - it was becoming sicker and its roots had made it under my neighbour's garage slab and were causing cracks, which is indeed bad. So the city took it down. And it did indeed cast a lot of shade on those hot south bay summer days. It got replaced with not a Ginko but something else of similar size and shape. It'll be a fine tree eventually, but definitely no oak.
posted by GuyZero at 10:41 AM on January 23, 2018


for Mountain View to build housing and amenities at sufficient scale and density and character that Google employees might want to live there instead of taking the bus from SF.

a) there is no shortage of tech employees living in these suburbs
b) if all the Google, Apple & FB employees moved to the peninsula I think there'd literally be no housing left for everyone else
posted by GuyZero at 10:42 AM on January 23, 2018


I have no respect for idiots who mow down a forested suburban lot to plant ugly McMansions, so poorly laid out that 90% of the usable space on the block is wasted (yet the houses are still so close together that they almost touch!) then surround them with spindly new plantings of non-native stuff that will maybe look nice by the time the homeowner's kid retires.

If it makes you feel any better most of Cupertino and Sunnyvale and Santa Clara were fruit orchards before becoming suburbs, so the suburbs weren't the ones who killed the native trees.

There probably hasn't been any native forest in what is now peninsula suburbs since 1900.
posted by GuyZero at 10:44 AM on January 23, 2018


Liveoaks are my favorite trees because each one grows its own unique twisty wonderful way. They look like Maxfield Parrish trees.
posted by The otter lady at 11:00 AM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm fine with native species, but Christ you would never want a live oak as a street tree.

That makes no sense. Street trees don't grow uninhibited for 80 years and then suddenly have to contend with street life. We planted our sidewalk live oak maybe five years ago, and the tree was maybe eight years old at the time, and we've kept training its growth since. It's a great, happy, healthy tree.

Friends of the Urban Forest have been doing a bang up job greening San Francisco for the last thirty years. They're really caught on in the last five years or so. They're how we ended up with a coast live oak! They aren't mentioned in any of the linked articles--I think they're only active in SF--but they're an easily accessible model for other Bay cities to follow.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:05 AM on January 23, 2018


Here in Washington, DC they have a neat map available showing the sizes and species of street trees. When we bought our house some ten years ago there were a couple of newly planted trees out front (red maple and sugar maple). It's been nice to watch them grow.
posted by exogenous at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2018


There was a huge live oak in front of our house when we lived in Cupertino. It was about 80 feet tall. It'd send down little acorns and they'd sprout in our garden, and then we'd pull out the seedlings and put 'em in the yard waste bin. Then one year the acorns stopped dropping, and the next year the tree was visibly starting to die. Now I wished we planted those seedlings, even more so after reading this article.
posted by zsazsa at 3:41 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


I do have to confess (1) I like tree diversity, just from the visual aspect, forgive my simple bourgeois tastes and (2) the native Californian live oak, with its pointy sharp leaves that drop on the ground year round and discourage walking barefoot, is not my favorite pick for the suburbs.

Now I feel guilty about these preferences. But I haven't digested the full pros and cons yet of all the linked pieces. The valley oak (also native) doesn't seem like it'd have the pointy leaf problem but I have limited direct experience there.
posted by mark k at 10:29 PM on January 23, 2018


Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed
Why did I make this comment? Because of the favorite it got from ged it appears in my recent activity, but I have no idea what it means.
posted by unliteral at 4:30 AM on February 22, 2018


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