The climate is changing, and we will all see the consequences, all over the world. There are many plans to prepare for this or even reverse the process. But as an alderman of a medium-sized city in the Netherlands, what can you contribute? What is the impact of a climate measure at the local level? Rik Thijs, Alderman Climate & Energy in Eindhoven, presents to us once a month his dilemmas, his choices and his ambitions.
On Thursday evening, July 18, a huge fire raged over the 260-year-old sycamore tree near Wasven in my town of Eindhoven. The world’s first “tree” that could be 1000 years old appears to have been the target of an arson attack. Many residents of Eindhoven were shocked. Immediately, a fundraising campaign was launched to save the tree. There is a chance that the tree will survive and remain standing in 500 years.
The grief caused by fire shows the value a tree can have. Not only for the biodiversity and cooling of our city but also emotionally. Under the tree were concerts, weddings and funerals.
For me, the burning of this tree means more. That we need to pay attention to the greenery in our city and add trees instead. Adding trees also creates dilemmas. They don’t seem like major issues, but I think it would be good to explain to you the more minor dilemmas I have to deal with.
As an alderman for green spaces, I regularly have to rule on objections to felling permits. Residents want to cut down a tree in their garden or make a request for a cut tree in their street. From an individual point of view this is understandable, but from a point of view of greater social interest, Eindhoven has a strict culling policy. We frown on felling trees when they cause dirt or leaves on the car. Or when trees block the sun for solar panels. Sometimes people don’t understand this because solar panels are also a good development, right?
The value of existing trees often comes before other developments. Trees are our lungs in the city. Although there are, of course, exceptions. Especially when it comes to our major real estate projects. The credo is first to preserve the trees and if not to compensate for the green spaces in the immediate vicinity. To determine how much greenery needs to come back, we calculate the value of the tree.
Dilemmas also arise with the new greenery. For example, we are in the process of removing excess paving. We then plant green spaces to make our streets greener, more biodiverse and climate resilient. However, this sometimes leads to complaints. For example, people have to walk a few meters around the block with their groceries because a green strip has been made in front of their door. Or when we plant trees in a treeless street. For each tree, you can think of a complaint: less light, falling leaves, view. Yet the great importance of a climate-adaptive green city is that we must put the general interest first, rather than the individual interest, to keep the city livable, despite the resistance. Although we involve residents in the plans, we cannot prevent those who oppose green.
Hopefully the tree at Wasven is an example of all the thousands of trees we will plant in the years to come. That a tree can be more than a trunk with leaves. These are the nurseries of birds, insects and other animals. It can take on emotional significance, it is the mini air conditioners that will keep our city cool in the future. So let’s hope that one of our city’s most important air conditioners will still cool us 500 years from now and remain a place of joy and sadness. Anyway, that’s what trees do to me.