August 1, 2014

Grey to green: Making Dallas a really cool city

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We’re in for another long hot summer. Our city is heating up, and long-range forecasts predict that the drought in North Texas will get worse before it gets better. Being hot is endemic in Dallasites, but it doesn’t have to be this way. A better balance between grey and green infrastructure will lessen the heat island effect and provide a plethora of additional benefits that will increase the quality of our lives, especially for better air and water quality.

Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Sacramento, Portland, Chicago, Austin – what makes these cities so cool? For recreational destinations, coolness is structural as much as it is cultural.

“The draw to these places is not the weather or the coffee,” says Janette Monear of Texas Trees Foundation. “Coolness is also in the green infrastructure, sustainable design, art, music, trails, walkability, greenways, urban forests, complete streets, parks, open space, and really cool people.”

Dallas has the main ingredients for being “cool”, but we still lack appreciation for one natural element: trees. Commonly recognized as good for ornamental landscaping and climbing, but not much else, trees have far more value than we realize. In fact, if trees were food, they would be the nutrients, not just the garnish.

While their aesthetic appeal pleases the eye and their canopies give us shade, their deeper value lies in biological attributes such as leaf area, biomass, species diversity, and composition. Trees have features that rival the most advanced clean technologies in terms of carbon sequestration and air pollution control. Unfortunately, we take these functions for granted, and this summer we will feel the consequences.

This month, prominent leaders will join engaged citizens to learn about our natural assets, what we risk losing with the urban heat island effect and what we could gain with timely heat management. The Grey to Green conference, sponsored by the Texas Trees Foundation, will be held on Tuesday, May 27 from 7:30 AM to noon at the Dallas Museum of Art.

The keynote speaker for this event is Dr. Brian Stone, Jr., associate professor in the School of City and Regional Planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places We Live.

In her review of Stone’s book, Ann Drumm writes, “Managing urban heat is just as important a response to climate change as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the benefits will be felt much sooner.  Cities should prioritize strategies that reduce both heat and GHG emissions, and trees are at the top of that priority list.”

Other speakers include David Hitchcock of the Houston Area Research Center, Dr. Robert Haley with UT Southwestern Medical Center, and Matt Grubisich, and urban forester with Texas Trees Foundation. The presentations will focus on urban heat management in cities, and why trees and green infrastructure are essential for protecting public health, economic development, and quality of life.

Traditionally, environmental protection in Dallas has been perceived by some to be at odds with development, but Texas Trees Foundation and other organizers anticipate that with more public education, cooler heads will prevail. In fact, as the drought persists, real estate developers and city planners alike are beginning to see the economic development value of protecting our trees.

In fact, the DMA is the ideal venue for extending the conversation. On exhibit now is Alexandre Hogue: The Erosion Series, which documents the devastation to ranchland near Dalhart, Texas wrought by land-management failures during the Dust Bowl, the greatest ecological disaster in American history.

“Current drought conditions and the decreasing water supplies in the Southwest certainly make Hogue’s striking imagery from the “dirty 30s” seem amazingly prescient,” said Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. “The Dust Bowl was a man-made disaster, and it is impossible to view these works without considering the choices we each need to make in our relationship with the environment and our use of its resources.”

It has been said that art imitates life. Nested in the designs from the Connected City Design Challenge is an inspiring 21st century portrait of the city we’d all like to live in, a true balance between the grey and the green. Hopefully this event and the upcoming New Cities Summit will inspire Dallas leaders to protect and improve the natural assets of our fair city. Any efforts we can make in that direction will be steps toward ensuring that our past does not dictate our future.


Anna Clark

Anna Clark


Anna Clark is the president of EarthPeople Media. A communication strategist and freelance journalist, Anna frequently contributes to Huffington Post, Greenbiz.com, Guardian Sustainable Business, and Al Jazeera English. She is the author of "Green, American Style" and is presently working on her second book.

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