Branding – and remember this is not about Right Tree, Right Place

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I have a friend who’s a journalist and he said to me once that to have a story ‘branded’ is a rare and enviable thing so we’re fortunate in Newcastle. He was talking about the situation where a news item is so well-known that it has a shorthand title – like ‘Laman Street’  in Newcastle where council allege one of our best-known streets is dangerous because the trees could fall over. The story has been in the media at a steady rate over more than six months now – so much that the anti-tree brigade are bored and cross reading about it.

One of my children is in a class where they had to give a three-minute talk about whatever topic they liked and one of the kids talked about the Laman Street trees. These children are 10 years old.

A year 7 sibling of one of her friends had to do a geography project for school and chose Laman Street and yesterday the other child was talking with her friends about ABC radio’s report a couple of days ago. She was amazed that she didn’t have to explain anything about it because another of their friends knew about the details behind the story. The teenager having it explained to her was astounded that council want to remove the trees.

Her astonishment reminded me of the QTRA expert whose advice about tree risk assessment was basically ‘If the assessment comes out at a very different calculation from what you expect do it again.’ [Quantified tree risk assessment is the risk assessment tool used by some arborists to decide whether a tree needs to be taken out. Click on QTRA in the tag cloud on the right and you can read more about my take on it.]

QTRA was mentioned again by council this week, this time by the Livable Cities Director. He said that not being an arborist he didn’t really understand QTRA but implied that he nonetheless puts lots of faith in it.

I had a mental image recently of Laman Street after the Pasha Bulker storm: it was probably like Newcastle after the earthquake: people rubbing their hands together in glee at the opportunity to remove something they’d had their eyes on for years, with very little scrutiny or oversight. (Parks and Playground Movement’s Doug Lithgow wrote an interesting piece about the earthquake.) After the earthquake it was heritage buildings. This decade it’s trees.

I wonder how much notice council officers take of elected councillors. Before Christmas one of the councillors asked officers to post the minutes of the Public voice council meeting about Laman Street – didn’t happen for months. Last week another of the councillors asked council staff to respond to my concerns about why the street was closed on a day when there was no wind or wind warning. Hasn’t happened.

Quite a contrast to Railcorp – I left feedback on their website about the Wahroongah Station figs that have been removed. I received not one but two replies: one by email and the other by phone. Of course, the trees are gone, so it’s a somewhat empty thing to be pleased about but it’s impressive corporate behaviour nevertheless. We could learn from that.

What I admire also about Railcorp is that they came out and said that getting rid of their figs was about trip hazards. Pure and simple. That situation absolutely boils down to right tree, right place – and a lack of imagination, but that’s another story. This would have swayed no opponents but they didn’t flinch. And they didn’t put pages and pages on their website about how unsafe or diseased the figs are, or how near the end of their life the trees are, or how previous pruning practices could have weakened them.

And à propos of nothing,we are so lucky to have apparently healthy flying foxes in the Hunter. In Sydney Peter Garrett has allowed the Royal Botanic Gardens to hound them out because of the impact that the weight of numbers has had on their heritage trees. In Queensland, according to people on twitter, flying foxes are short of food because of the effect of too much rain on the blossom that is their food source. And in Singleton great care is being taken to avoid harming the flying foxes when they do tree work in Burdekin Park.

Over summer and autumn it was interesting to watch the figs in Newcastle producing fruit at different times and seeing the flying foxes move from one species of fig to another. At the charette that was supposed to be about Laman Street but was really about poor Civic Park , one of the council tree staff expressed the view that it wouldn’t matter if the figs were removed from Laman Street because the flying foxes would find a food source in newer figs that council has planted.

And I can’t resist a link to some beautiful photos from leenks.com that I saw on twitter: an underground railway system in Sweden. Please could we have something as strange and beautiful as these things? Who do I ask?      19 6 2010      Home

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