One example of this increasingly expanding sprawl outside of Seattle is Issaquah – which only keeps expanding because it’s at the “edge.” Beyond it lies old “rural” areas, and trees and more trees that gradually turn into the Cascade Mountain range. (Issaquah is also next to Redmond, home of the ever expanding Microsoft – not the reason for sprawl of course, but a bunch of rich people have needs...)
While there are a few mini-McMansions in Issaquah, most of the houses are cookie cutter developments that look like the American dream threw up – manicured front and back lawns, sidewalks, three car garages, etc. (In Seattle, the McMansions are reserved for the islands in the Puget Sound, many of which are accessible only by ferry, private boat, or helicopter.) To build these, developers come in, clear out the trees and get to work. And down the road, to accommodate the happy families that have attained the American dream, more trees have to be cleared to make way for grocery stores, dry cleaners, banks, McDonalds, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Blockbuster.
So what was once just trees is now a paved over, built up happy neighborhood. Only, the residents aren’t too happy when there’s word of a cougar sighting. Squirrels cute, raccoons we can deal with, but cougars – how dare they invade our neighborhood! Our small children and dogs are in danger! Well what about the cougars? They kind of got screwed over royally on the real estate deal.
Residents also don’t like the rain so much – especially when there’s a lot of it in the winter time. (They also don’t like that there’s not enough rain in the summer time when their lawns turn brown). It doesn’t down pour in Seattle very often, but it can rain a nice steady rain for what seems like days, and days and days. After all these days of rain, the rivers can fill up and there can be flooding here and there. Mudslides occur. There’s usually some heavy road or property damage yearly. The funny thing is – like the cougars – people point fingers at the rain for causing their problems. When really, the increasing amount of sprawl is just compounding the problem. By paving over and building up on what used to be nature’s drainage system (the trees and ground) there’s no place for the water to go.
In Los Angeles (sprawl on steroids) there is an organization called Tree People. A reforestation group that has planted millions and millions of trees since they began in the 1970's. Recently, Tree People founder Andy Lipkis branched off into watershed management. He convinced the city to let him try out a new way for LA to manage its water, and instead of building more concrete culverts he's retrofitting school yards and back lawns with cisterns and infiltrators to help handle the flow. The T.R.E.E.S. project - Transagency Resources for Environmental and Economic Sustainability - "employs technologies that mimic the “sponge and filter” function of trees. It also demonstrates the technical and economic feasibility (and desirability) of retrofitting a city to function as an urban forest watershed." The great thing about the T.R.E.E.S project is it works.
Working with nature is better than battling with it. We (many humans) tend to think we’ve in fact conquered nature – but the reality is the war is far from over and nature isn’t going down without a fight.