Trees, part 1: Yesler Terrace

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The Yesler Terrace redesign project hopes to give new life to old buildings and systems that are starting to fail….to the tune of 400 trees. What would be better are the needed improvements without the environmental cost!

About a month ago, more on sidewalks and trees was promised.  Talk of Yesler Terrace has occasioned a (hopefully sustained) focus on the relationships trees have to sidewalks and, thus, walking, which is what Feet First is all about.

Posted by Megan RisleyJuly 18, 2011

Seattle Housing Authority (SHA)’s Yesler Terrace project envisages a re-construction of many of the 70-or-more-year-old buildings which are rapidly reaching the end of their useful lives.  Water and sewer systems in this area are also beginning to deteriorate and the Seattle Housing Authority has plans that stretch over the next 15 years to redesign Yesler Terrace’s housing  to accommodate the people and systems that comprise this niche of Seattle’s historic district.   SHA states that it hopes to do all this in such a way as to bring the many people from myriad backgrounds together in a more community-oriented way.   

All of this sounds wonderful, but that’s without considering the cost.  According to a member of, the Yesler Terrace wants to indiscriminately bulldoze 96 and a half percent of the land involved in the project.  And that could mean over 400 trees will be felled in the process, not to mention a drastic loss in open space (which means, by proxy, a loss of community).  This would reduce the canopy size by over 80%, leaving only a handful of trees to handle the inevitable rainfall.  The City of Seattle does have arboreal goals in place – they are to increase the canopy in Seattle and cultivate a greener environment even while continuing development.  Yet the proposed Yesler Terrace redevelopment seems to actually go against these goals and progress markers set forth by the Seattle Comprehensive Plan for residential and industrial development.  It doesn’t meet the requirements – specifically those on trees – set forth by the Director’s Rule for landscape and green factor issues, either.

In general, cutting down trees in general isn’t very environmentally friendly.  Officially, there is a nonprofit organization that has put together a rating system that scores various development projects and their environmental impact and awareness.  This organization, The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), would give a very low rating to Yesler Terrace proposal.  SITES’ rating system takes into account the amount and size of trees involved in a given project and uses them as a measurement for how environmentally sound said project is.  While the building industry currently has an “environmental awareness” system (that is, LEEDS), SITES is an improvement on it – for the main reason that SITES views the land involved in a construction zone as inherently valuable while LEEDS does not.

In summary, while Yesler Terrance neighborhood does need some improvement, the improvement should happen while protecting the existing trees in the area, thus preserving its natural beauty.  Putting trees – and thus sustainability and the environment – before the simplest possible construction method (clear-cutting the site) will afford this protection, as well as that of the of our health and sense of community

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