Posted by: Frederik Balfour on April 19, 2009
While listening to the local news this morning in Hong Kong I was delighted to hear that someone in the government is finally taking the issue of tree management seriously. Legislative councillor Audrey Eu has advocated creating a law to protect trees and to appoint a tree commissioner. The move comes nine months after a woman was killed by a falling limb last August.
Readers of some of my blogs may already know that I’m something of a tree hugger, but I can tell you that putting your arms around most of Hong Kong’s scrawny saplings would be like holding a severely anorexic partner. I’ve long wondered why Hong Kong insists on planting trees that are neither indigenous to the region [palm trees] and which are ill suited to heavy traffic. What’s more, the city’s Leisure and Recreation Department insists on hacking as many branches off trees as its cherry pickers can reach, so that trees provide neither shade nor protection from the rain. Most trees, be they ficus, golden bauhinia, banyans or oriflamme [flame] are pruned so they end up looking like something out of Dr. Seuss books, with long skinny trunks and a tiny crown of branches. Ironically, the only trees which have decent foliage are on traffic islands where you can’t get near them. The Convention Center is a case in point: there are no trees on the sidewalks, so buses have to park in the sun, forcing them to keep their engines on to keep cool. No wonder our pollution is getting worse.
I spoke to Greenpeace international executive director Gerd Liepold about the benefits of trees planted properly in an urban environment [here is a video of him] and he stressed the importance of green lungs in cities. Trees provide shade both for pedestrians and buildings [thus lower consumption of energy for air conditioning],they can help absorb exhaust fumes, and they are also very pretty to look at. For an excellent example of a city with a good healthy tree policy, all you need to do is walk across the Chinese border into Shenzhen. Singapore, of course, is fabulously green, thanks to a concerted planting effort by Lee Kwan Yew back in the 1960s.
What Hong Kong needs to realize is that tree planting is not enough. Proper selection of the right kind of trees, and more important, proper maintanence and trimming to ensure a tree grows horizontally as well as vertically to ensure maximum foliage. I hope whoever gets appointed as commissioner takes a good look at some of the great cities of the world which treat their trees like national treasures.. What would Kyoto, Tokyo or Washington D.C. be like without their cherry blossoms? How would Savannah be without its glorious oaks hanging with Spanish Moss? Or Vancouver without its Douglas Firs? If Hong Kong really wants to become a Asia’s World City, it needs a world class tree management program. Then it will have it made in the shade.