Published on 10/23/01

Citizens Can Help Manage Urban Green Space

All communities share the common goal of a healthy environment for their citizens. And the quality of their environment has much to do with the amount of green space they have.

A well-managed green space -- turf, trees, shrubs and other plants -- can mitigate the ill effects of construction developments.

Cities with little green space can be hotter, with more and muddier runoff water. These concrete communities often don't look or feel like places people want to call home.

Developing TLOs

But citizens can help manage community green space in many ways, including developing of tree and landscape ordinances.

TLOs aren't just for big cities with environmental problems. Small towns and communities at early stages of growth need them, too.

In fact, when smaller towns effect TLOs as they start growing, they can avoid many of the environmental ills of larger cities. Hard times arise when significant natural resources are depleted before starting an ordinance.

Effective Steps

Several steps have proven effective in developing community TLOs.

Survey the situation. Find out if your city or county already has an ordinance. If so, get a copy and become familiar with its details. Reviewing TLOs of nearby communities or those with about the same size or terrain provides more ideas. Look into whether the community is happy, too, with the current ordinance.

Identify groups interested in a TLO. Developing working relationships with like-minded civic groups is important. These may include the tree board or commission, garden clubs, the local chapter of Keep America Beautiful, heritage or preservation society, neighborhood associations and community planners.

Join the tree board or commission. In most places, the tree board is the mechanism for people to develop a TLO. If there are no vacancies, attend the meetings.

Work with civic groups. Planning and zoning commissions deal with issues related to growth. Talking with members can help implement a TLO. Presentations to local civic clubs can increase public awareness of the need. Reviewing how new developments can degrade the environment is a good start.

Talk with commercial developers. A local government's passage of a tree and landscape ordinance usually requires input and support of commercial developers, such as the homebuilders association and general contractors association. The timing and nature of the contact with these groups will vary, but early dialogue is most helpful.

Contact city and county officials. Getting an ordinance passed would be more likely if city and county officials were involved early on. These may include the city council, city manager, mayor, county commissioners or county manager. The city or county arborist can be another important resource.

Draft a tree and landscape ordinance. This step should include (1) input from interested environmental and civic groups, (2) a review of the current ordinance, (3) a list of community needs, (4) a review of ordinances for comparable communities, (5) a summary of other ordinances' key elements, (6) the actual drafting and (7) being willing to make many revisions and seek further input.

Develop community consensus. Once a draft is prepared, begin the process of review and consensus building. Identify all important groups to be contacted, and develop a sequence for review. Consensus-building discussions help the whole community understand the need and become involved in setting standards for preserving natural resources. The understanding and support are important during the approval process.

Establish a mechanism for enforcement. A TLO isn't complete unless a means to monitor and enforce it is in place. Monitoring is necessary to ensure uniform compliance. The more commercial developers are part of the approval process, the more likely they will enforce it. The process of building community consensus will facilitate compliance.

Mel Garber is a professor in the Office of Environmental Science of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.