The nature band aid is the standard way we go about addressing the ugliness of the landscapes we've built. When my hometown built a $9 million stroad, they included trees in the median and flowers in the ditches. I guess it makes people feel better driving to the less-than-spectacular downtown but hardly compensates for the sad state of the vegetation in the park.
Of course, if we drove through or parked on the city park, we'd find a way to put a nature band aid there too. It's just that people use the park outside of their cars so, really....why bother.
It's only natural, then, that there would be widespread applause for a program in my home state of Minnesota to "beautify" the entry points of cities. From the Star Tribune:
For years, the first impressions motorists got of many Minnesota cities were uninspired.
Highway roadsides and exit ramps were scruffy, or worse yet, bland. They signaled to motorists: Keep driving.
Realizing that those stretches of road are the first — sometimes the only — thing people know about a suburb or small town, communities are partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to dress up their entry points.
The effort is about subtly drawing more visitors and dollars into those areas. It’s also about creating better images as cities compete for new businesses and residents.
I run the risk here of coming across as a grouchy curmudgeon -- who could possibly be against planting trees and shrubs -- for suggesting that this is all rather silly. Then again, our good friend Joe Cortright of City Observatory summed it up nicely.
Yes, after spending billions destroying the economies of small towns and inducing a financial train wreck in our suburbs, we'll now pretend that somehow we are making a difference by planting some trees.
Let's be clear: It might make you feel a little bit better on your commute to soften the horrible landscape we've built with some vegetation, but let's not pretend this is going to "subtly draw more visitors" off the road.
My family and I just took a road trip out west using the interstate. We stopped when (a) we needed more gas, (b) we needed food, (c) we needed a bathroom break or (d) we reached a destination. Our tragic highway cities have figured out how to provide gas, food and toilets. Where we struggle is actually making a destination; a place where people want to stop.
A program to plant trees and shrubs is not going to hurt anything, but it seems like time and energy wasted on things that hardly matter, especially if the goal is to help cities become more prosperous and successful. It feels very orderly but dumb. We'd be far better off planting and caring for those trees in places where they can provide shade for people walking instead of a prozac substitute for people driving.