Hong Kong Needs World Class Tree Management

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.

Reader Comments

Craig Bramich

April 20, 2009 5:22 AM

Great article, I am from Melbourne,Australia and over the last 4 years my company has developed a world class GPS Field asset Data Capture solution featured to 10,000 delegates in Vegas last December. Councils in Melbourne are using the up to the minute accurate system for risk mitigation, regulatory compliance and budget projections accounting for climatic variables. A solution for HK tree management already exists. Love to help.

Craig Bramich

April 20, 2009 5:24 AM

I forgot to say we already consult to some of the largest organisations in HK.
Craig

ellena

April 20, 2009 10:57 AM

maybe they should appoint you as the tree commissioner. You sound like a pro

Craig Bramich

April 21, 2009 12:42 AM

Thank you, you are very kind, certainly not as the tree commissioner but Australia is heavily legislated where life preservation strategies via compliance and risk mitigation are serious issues. This in turn increases the cost to business and eventually the consumer. In the City of Hume (Huge suburb of Melbourne) they have undertaken to reduce their costs, improve their service levels and increase compliance via our system which is business wide...not just trees. We do not view a tree like a user does. We see a tree as an asset which in the beginning requires appropriate selection by the planning departments for the use and effect, it is then passed to the construction department for creation, then to the works department for maintenance over life cycle of the asset and finally a replacement process and we start again. Along the way, like all of us, it requires trimming, watering, disease management, protection and potentially replacement due to unforeseen circumstances. Remembering a tree can live tens to hundreds of years means the life cycle system has to outlast you and I but cater for the regular weekly and monthly tasks along the way which all impact the finance dept, procurement, works,new estate planning and management budgets etc. The consequence of getting it wrong can be fatal as has sadly occured in Hong Kong recently. This type of incident has happened many times in Australia in the past so that is another contributor to us having already moved on a mitigation process. So for us...a tree is not just a tree.

frederik balfour

April 21, 2009 11:57 PM

Here is a useful government site of Hong Kong's most popular trees:

http://resources.edb.gov.hk/~trees2/txt/13e.doc

elaine tai

April 23, 2009 1:04 PM

yes, we should have quality trees for tree-huggers~~

Doug

May 2, 2009 10:21 PM

In a typical fashion, Hong Kong's government has overreacted and mis-allocated resources in relation to tree management, because of one, natural accident. It is hard to imagine how they can justify putting the time and effort of one of the city's top leaders, Henry Tang, on this job, when there are clearly more pressing environmental issues that trees. This is particularly sad when the likely outcome is blatant tree cutting in places that are "deemed to be dangerous" by some person who simply makes their own opinions. This has already been witnessed in Wanchai in a site managed by the LCSD.

In fact, it is extremely ironic that the government has appointed a high ranking official to deal with a "natural phenomenon" (tree growth/death), while at the same time, they have pushed ahead, against the wishes of over 3,000 people who voiced their disapproval, to expand our land fills into 5 acres of country park! This is an "unnatural" problem (waste, generated by man), vs. tress, which are natural. There was not even ONE mention of any way to reduce our landfill waste to keep it from further encroaching into our natural spaces, the parks? How is it possible to have such a disjointed way of thinking/governing in this city?

Doug

May 2, 2009 10:22 PM

In a typical fashion, Hong Kong's government has overreacted and mis-allocated resources in relation to tree management, because of one, natural accident. It is hard to imagine how they can justify putting the time and effort of one of the city's top leaders, Henry Tang, on this job, when there are clearly more pressing environmental issues that trees. This is particularly sad when the likely outcome is blatant tree cutting in places that are "deemed to be dangerous" by some person who simply makes their own opinions. This has already been witnessed in Wanchai in a site managed by the LCSD.

In fact, it is extremely ironic that the government has appointed a high ranking official to deal with a "natural phenomenon" (tree growth/death), while at the same time, they have pushed ahead, against the wishes of over 3,000 people who voiced their disapproval, to expand our land fills into 5 acres of country park! This is an "unnatural" problem (waste, generated by man), vs. tress, which are natural. There was not even ONE mention of any way to reduce our landfill waste to keep it from further encroaching into our natural spaces, the parks? How is it possible to have such a disjointed way of thinking/governing in this city?

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