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Trees are a Tool to Fight Inequality

By: Matt Buland

October 1, 2016

I come to an abrupt stop. A complete standstill. I’m at that stark divide where the outstretched arms of the magnificent green giant above me can no longer reach. The cool, dappled, light and dark shades of the grays, greens, and assorted colors are no more. Only blinding brightness is ahead. I shade my eyes and peer into the intense sunlight. I see shade! My muscles tense up and… BANG!!! I’m off, like a runner at a track meet, sprinting at peak physical exertion only slowing as I reach my finish line of cool, comfortable, shady relief.

This silly pattern of slowly walking (you might even say loitering) in the shade and then sprinting through the sun drenched areas to the next shady spot was repeated daily on my walks home from school. While growing up in the quiet, safe, and well-tree’d neighborhood of River Park, my greatest troubles, for the most part, were those in-between shady times. My life revolved around the neighborhoods and intermingled shopping centers that hugged the American River. Rich soils and comfortable lifestyles led to a wonderful vegetated urban living space. This was my Sacramento.

But this wasn’t everyone’s Sacramento. I distinctly remember an emergency trip to the South Sacramento post office, the only one still open at that hour. As we zipped along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, I noticed a stark landscape. It was hard to call it a landscape at all. This hot, angular, and gray people-scape seemed foreign to my understanding of space and place. And, as my world further expanded, enduring long bus rides on public transportation to Mira Loma High School, I observed many neighborhoods that bore more resemblance to the images of asphalt, brick, and concrete that I associated with dense urban cores like Los Angeles. The contrasts spoke to me.

This smacked of unfairness and inequality. These communities did not have the feeling of comfort I was used to. They felt harsh and unforgiving. As I contemplated universities and majors, Cal Poly’s City and Regional Planning program seemed like a pathway for change. We studied form and space. We sought to define the design principles that made a place into a community. In those discussions, at least from my end, tree’s reigned supreme and a need to balance and merge the built environment with the natural world became a personal ethic.

It has been a long journey to find a place where I can apply that ethic. The Sacramento Tree Foundation has given me that avenue. I facilitate empowerment daily. I re-balance. I provide tools for equality. It is exciting to see communities connect, unify, bond, and strengthen around the common good of sturdy shade trees. Certainly trees cannot possibly solve each and every ill, but they are a great start. There should be no marathons, only short sprints to the next shade tree. BANG!!! We’re off.