Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jennifer Berry, Eco-Defender

Ok, so I talk a big talk sometimes, but that's what you all like, right? Here I go again.

A friend of mine tipped me off to some recent permitting issues in his neighborhood, where a grove of trees and building are set to be torn down so a bigger building can occupy its space. I puffed myself up for a professional letter to the City of Mill Valley, and this is what I wrote.

"I'm writing this in concern to the oak grove on Forrest Street that is threatened by development.

I am an ecological consultant who assists in sustainable building and design projects, my scope of work ranging from single residences all the way to college campuses. I am currently working on a green SPCA facility in Monterey County, two LEED buildings at a community college in Tuolomne County, and a LEED boy-scout camp in El Cerrito. A large part of my work involves using natural habitat to enhance a building and its surroundings. The design professionals I work with seek ways to increase the aesthetic quality, efficiency and health of their buildings while having little negative impact on the surrounding ecology of a site. Preserving trees are a large part of this process. I lived at two houses on Forrest over the years, giving me an intimate view of the ecology for this neighborhood.

When considering the ecology of a small site such as this one, it is necessary to look at a larger picture and determine how a building effects the surrounding lots, the block, and then the neighborhood as a whole. On Forrest Way, houses and gardens have been built with the miccroclimate provided by the trees that make up the forest that incorporates surrounding streets. The appeal of living on Forrest for me was that it was a quiet oasis just a block away from downtown Mill Valley. Over the years the large trees have been leaving, one by one, slowly bringing the sound from downtown into the neighborhood.
Also, the temperature of the neighborhood has increased in the summers. Little by little, the fan usage has increased, air-conditioners have been purchased, increasing the power use in this area and in turn putting a greater demand on utilities. Carbon emissions increase as each tree is no longer present to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and as people use more energy to cool their homes.
Flooding is always an issue in the winter months on Forrest. Large trees help reduce the saturation of soils by soaking up all that rainwater and releasing back into the atmosphere. Permeable landscape reduces the demand on waste water systems by allowing storm water to percolate into the water table rather than traveling across pavement and into the sewers.

This isn't just a case of one group of trees and one lot in consideration. This is taking a step back and looking at the picture as it should be viewed- as a whole. I assure you that cutting down this group of native trees at the fore-mentioned site will have a significantly negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, and alternatives must be sought.

I work with a group of specialists we affectionately refer to as the Green Team, which includes architects, hydrologists, engineers, planners, and ecologists. We put on eco-charettes with design groups to help them make their projects more sustainable. As an integrated team, we solve problems and find ways to build without cutting down trees and damaging the ecology of a site. It is possible and very necessary to encourage economic growth and increase housing without having a negative impact on the environment. I urge the City of mill Valley to take a step up and find ways to do so, by starting with this project."

Pretty cool, huh? This is one of the many things I do for a living, and its great to be able to lend my professional knowledge to a friend, especially one as dear as my good friend Jimo Thomas.

Want to get involved with saving the grove at 78 Forrest? Drop me a line at:
jennie1234 at mac dot com
(I wrote it out so the spam-bots leave me alone, but you'll figure it out)

Know of the propsal and want to get involved?
let the Ciy of Mill Valley know
rwalsh at cityofmillvalley dot org
(once again written out to keep away those pesky spam-bots)

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