Portland Sustainable Landscapes: Toward Health and Diversity – Creating an Organizational Structure for Implementation

 

 

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Urban landscapes can and must vary across a wide spectrum of types from natural to highly contrived display and educational beds. All will require their own maintenance regime that should minimize impacts while supporting the expression of the particular landscape. Good horticultural practice will minimize negative impacts and costs and is largely ‘determined’ by the design.

Introduction

An Office of Sustainable Landscapes that oversees all landscapes within the City and provides active leadership to both private and commercial property owners through the following:

Public Landscapes (active urban contrived) Horticultural Management

Public Landscapes (urban plant communities)

Corridor Management: Transportation and Riverine

Division of State Lands

Tri-Met

P-BoT

O-DoT

Multnomah County Bridges

Outreach and Education

‘Regulatory’

Introduction

Landscape is the setting, matrix and backdrop for everything that we do as humans.  It is where we live, work and play, the places, on which the infrastructure that enables our modern day life, exists.  It is both essential and peripheral, always present and, too often, taken for granted, so much so that we often view it incidentally.  Like many other things in our lives it may go unnoticed until it is so degraded that we can no longer ignore it.  Overall, our care of it, reflects a similar low priority.  It becomes largely ‘invisible’, behind the more recognized needs of a modern City.  Individual mobility, food, water, shelter, energy, economic opportunity and growth, the transportation infrastructure that keep us supplied with these things, all and more take precedence, the landscape subsumed and secondary, inferior and problematic.  Overall, it is not generally viewed today as having inherent value.  Its value, as a living system that allows and enriches biological life, seems almost irrelevant as we are able to satisfy our needs and desires via the economic engine that propels us along.  The landscape, nature, seems relevant only in so far as it can meet our recreational needs providing us a base on which to build and resources that we can manipulate/convert to satisfy our ‘needs’.  Lost in all of this is our relationship with nature, with the landscape, its essential role in the creation and sustenance of all of the resources upon which we and the rest of life depends, and so, it has suffered.  We have lost the ability, or willingness, to use nature as a gauge that shapes all of the other decisions we routinely make in order to meet our ‘economic’ needs.  As both a society and as individuals we have learned to see these as separate and unrelated, so we routinely neglect the landscape.  The problem is pervasive and integrated with how we live our lives.  To correct this we must first acknowledge this and address it on many fronts.

All of us, as individuals and our organizations, have impacts, and are dependent upon, the landscape within which we live, the ground upon which we walk and build.  Yet its care is relegated to a relatively small number of people while the majority go about the business of the great economy.  This specialization helps allow for the secondary status of the landscape.  Most of us have been relieved of any responsibility for it as we go about our working lives.  It is simply not a matter of real concern or if it is, we have learned that it is beyond us.  So, we work in our specialized narrowly defined jobs and careers and seek escape in recreation, having been give a free pass with regards to the landscape.

A similar dismissal has happened in our minds when we go about our days whether at work or ‘play’.  The landscape is secondary.  When we organize our work or our day’s activities, the idea that we share a responsibility for the care of the landscape in which we act, is not generally considered.  We may be very cognizant of the ‘conditions’ that effect the work or the play that we purpose to do, but the health of the living landscape itself is not generally of concern for us.  By organizing the work of our public and private organizations this way and by doing a similar separation within our own personal decision making we have severely stacked the ‘deck’ against the health of the landscapes in which we live.  We do not carry with us, as part of our decision making ‘matrix’, a value for the landscape that shapes what we do at a basic level.  Rather it seems that it is an unnecessary complication, a costly externality, that we have learned, been taught, to avoid.  This seems to be related to the idea that the economic engine of capitalism, through the ‘invisible hand’, will protect what is necessary and valuable, that specific regulations to do this would be clumsy and cause the great machine to function inefficiently.  We need, this line of thinking goes, to simply let the system work…purely…and everything will be alright.  But there are inducements and biases built into the economy via legislation, contractual agreements, court decisions, that today have skewed the economy in ways that are severely compromising the healthy of the landscape and the overall environment as well.  Most of us simply don’t consider our impacts.  We don’t do this because we ‘hate’ the landscape, it is just that this is how we’ve lived our lives, how we all have, and changing this seems overwhelming.  We are busy just surviving, trying to pay the bills and likely can’t imagine how we could do it differently and make any difference at all.  We hope it will get better.

We can do better.  We can do the work differently.  We can restructure our organizations so that their responsibilities include a commitment to healthy landscapes and we can start doing education and outreach so that each of us can see our role.  We can lead by doing, providing support and incentives to others rather than by very limited ‘disincentives’ and nuisance ordinances.  We can make the landscape a priority when we are making all of our daily decisions as well as when taking on capital projects, asking ourselves how this will effect it just as we would when we consider the impacts of our own decisions on our own children….What we can’t do is keep ‘saying’ that we care while going about business as usual.  This is a path of disingenuousness and self deception that results in a public and youth that with diminished hope for the future is more likely to grab what they want…for now.  This is short term thinking and is ultimately self-destructive.

This is the model under which we operate.  Each of us has our own ‘interest’ and an agenda to protect or advance.  Players and stakeholders vie with each other utilizing what power they have to influence the outcome in their favor while nature and the ‘landscape’ are largely excluded from the discussion through a largely legal maneuver that denies it standing.  We have defined the landscape as irrelevant or incidental.  This is the problem at nearly every level of decision making in our contemporary world, the land lacks standing.  Now, if we choose to save or protect it, we have to acknowledge this and give it a place at the discussion table whether we are deciding budgets, programs and staffing levels or how we choose to spend our ‘free time’.

Currently there is a leadership void with regards to this problem.  Those agencies and bureaus who are charged with the care of Parks and public lands are often underfunded and have no history or authority to review the policies they operate under that may impede or even be destructive with regards to their own stated goals for sustainable landscapes.  Other agencies and bureaus, responsible for many thousands of acres of public lands have no experience or directive to manage their lands in this way.  Many of these merely hold them, having title, but taking little action with regards to their active and ongoing management.  These include transportation agencies and the Division of State Lands among others, but even within the City of Portland this divide exists resulting in the neglect and deterioration of the quality of the landscapes some of these agencies hold.

Large organizations tend to be hierarchical and bureaucratic.  They have conservative tendencies and continue doing work just the way that they always have over time.  Within an organization each branch or division is assigned particular responsibilities and duties consistent with the charge of the overall organization.  Very often these charges have nothing to do with the landscape beyond providing a location for these to take place.  Ideally the ‘needs’ of the land would be included in the decision making process, but they haven’t been.  This being the case we need to devise some structure that can better insure that this happens.  This is especially important with government and public organizations as people tend to look for them as examples.  It is very difficult to work for a set of goals, like sustainable landscapes, when your own organization has a spotty and conflicted record on the topic.  Private organizations, even small businesses, fill a similar role providing examples to citizens of effective or good practice, whether they are or not.  They will also point out the inconsistencies in government practice when they are being charged with doing work differently.  It is difficult to lead if you are not out in front of the problem.

Office of Sustainable Landscapes (OSL) (within the City of Portland)

The goal of the OSL is to change the organizational culture to one that is engaged and supportive of healthy sustainable landscapes that all urban landscapes, private, institutional and governmental, be cared for appropriately varying with their design, intended uses and the overall goals of the owner while at the same time reducing the ‘threat’, primarily through ‘weed pressure, that ‘uncared or poorly cared for land’ puts on other properties.  A basic idea is to not build what you cannot maintain as that will place a heavier burden on other property owners.  The OSL will serve to expedite and support this process largely utilizing staff already in place.

  • The Office of Sustainable Landscapes (OSL) will, like the Auditor’s Office, have responsibilities for all City owned land, regardless of which Bureau holds title. While the Bureaus will have maintenance and development responsibility for their properties, the OSL will work to assure that the land is developed and cared for in a way consistent with the City’s Sustainability Goals.  In a sense they will serve as land auditors.
  • They will also work in a supportive manner with regards to providing staff training and education and as advocates during the budgetary process for the Bureaus to assure adequate funding while the Bureaus are thus freed up to pursue their primary purposes.

(These monies, within a Bureau, will not be subject to purposes other than their original budgeted purpose be that for landscapes maintenance, street repair or Police and Fire services.  These monies will be kept separate just as monies from Parks enterprise funds, i.e., Golf and PIR, water and sewer fees, will be reserved directly for those services keeping the whole process cleaner and public confidence high.)

  • The OSL will work with the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) in an active public outreach and education program to engage the public in the responsible care of their own landscapes.  To this end they may utilize trained field staff of the Bureaus utilizing tours, work days and seminars geared to the on the ground practice of responsible sustainable landscape management in a manner similar to trainings offered within and between the Bureaus.  They will provide money and support in the production of educational materials for these programs.  They will also work with Portland State University, Portland Community College, Portland Public Schools and other interested educational institutions in developing programs at various levels to promote this work. (As there are already people doing this in some cases this may be primarily a support and coordination effort.)
  • The OSL will work in a similar capacity with County, State, METRO, TRI-MET The Port of Portland and Federal agencies who own property within the City, though their role will be primarily advisory.  They will also serve as advocates for the City’s Goals and enter in to negotiations with an agency in order to improve their practice, particularly in cases where said properties are problematic and present a significant burden to the management efforts of adjacent property owners, be they City, institutional or private.
  • The OSL will also work directly with large private landowners, primarily utilities and the railroads, in both an advisory capacity and to develop relationships between them and their adjacent property owners to address weed issues.

Public Landscapes (active urban contrived)

These landscapes are comprised of government properties intended for passive and active recreational uses, primarily parks that ‘invite’ private use, and are disbursed throughout the City.  These are already staffed by personnel of the responsible bureau or agency.  They will continue doing the maintenance and project work as they have in the past.  In order to better meet the City’s sustainability goals, staff will receive additional training in this area as they will be monitoring conditions on the ground and be the implementers in the field of corrective actions in a process of adaptive management.  To be successful this work will tend to be bottom up rather than top down.  As part of their duties staff will do regular assessments of their work and the state of properties under their care.  This will include an active role in the budgeting process in which the estimate the number of man hours needed to accomplish the work.  This will give a more accurate assessment of what is lacking and make the actual assignment of budget monies a clearer process.

Each property/landscape will be evaluated and assigned to an overall design ‘type’, e.g., golf course, passive grass and trees strolling, display garden, natural/woodsey, natural/grassland, active sport, children’s play, etc. Areas within these properties would be delineated as to landscape type: lawn, shrub bed, mixed border, etc. and would together be used to determine the type and level of care a particular landscape would require for best performance.  This separates out the political aspects of budgeting from the ‘essential’ work.

Field staff, planning and management could then make decisions about the future of each parcel moving it closer to a sustainable landscape or making the decision to have it serve other community values.  Each decision will have an impact on the budget and any progress toward a goal of more sustainable landscapes overall.  This process will also expose the properties that receive insufficient care and are thus adding to the burden of care other properties are saddled with.

Regarding the issue that field staff don’t have the time to do this work…history has demonstrated that excluding them from the process has lead to many of the problems that we face today and that by including them this will help them improve their practice.  Traditionally, work crews were sent out by a foreman to do labor on a site, the work was simplified and not responsive to the particular needs and conditions of a site.  Such an organization is a throwback to times when command and control were of the highest value.  History has very dramatically shown us what the weaknesses of such a structure are.

A better educated and engaged field staff is exactly what is needed today.  They will less likely be working at cross purposes as well as be more committed to the work.  This staff could then participate through the OSL in training and cross training efforts with other bureaus and agencies and serving as part of the City’s outreach and education program with the public.

Public Landscapes (urban plant communities)

The work on these landscapes will continue on much as they do for the above including the assessment and budgeting processes to assure that the work is done to a higher order and that practices continue to improve.  Bureaus and agencies whose mission are not primarily landscape oriented will be ‘pushed’ in a more responsible direction and the budget shortfalls will be more obvious as have been the decisions to ignore them.  All landscapes play a role in the larger picture, either positive or negative.  Separating the monies from those spent on the primary mission and those spent in support of the needed landscapes will clearly illustrate the shortfall and could be used to move the organization in a more responsible and sustainable direction accomplishing the agencies priorities while not putting a burden on adjacent property owners, a good model and example for the private sector.

Many public landscapes serve roles that are not strictly ornamental.  The landscape and their plants are not the primary draw in these.  Many maybe little more than ‘buffers’ between dissimilar uses or of separate properties.   These landscapes may serve primarily in directing pedestrian traffic or defining areas in a way that discourages more active human use.  They fill many secondary rolls from carbon sequestration, providing wildlife habitat, to cooling shade, storm water treatment and groundwater recharging among others. Their level of active use allows for a different type of landscape.  These landscapes provide for many of our ‘greenspace’ needs and may or may not be composed of plants from a strictly native palette.  These landscapes, because they are not required to meet a particular and contemporary aesthetic requirement are designed and maintained in a way that minimizes their maintenance level while meeting the wider needs of the community and the wider landscape.  Staff will work on these landscapes toward the goal of creating site appropriate plant communities in the process.  Such work requires that field staff have a close relationship with these landscapes and that planning and management staff both recognize this and support them in their work.  These are not ‘no work’ landscapes or neglected natural areas.  They still require an actively engaged staff, but the character and the goals of the work are different.  In a sense, active urban contrived landscapes, serve an entertainment or attraction function while these, urban plant communities, emphasize their environmental function in the landscape.  Both are necessary.  The absence of a developed program for the later has resulted in many areas of neglected and compromised landscapes that put the rest under more weed pressure.  This also has lead us to the situation we’re now in in which too many of our built landscapes of the former type, urban contrived and not the later.  When neglected, as they are prone to be when budgets are being cut, the urban contrived landscapes are very susceptible to quick weed infestation and the loss of whatever aesthetic value they offered the community.

This work has different priorities than ‘traditional’ landscape work, requires a different kind of ‘eye’ when surveying a site and a different tolerance for ‘messiness’.  Bureaus and agencies with non-landscape priorities have been caught in a bad position.  The work in urban plant community type landscapes is not well developed nor is the need for it even very well recognized.  This has resulted in landscapes with designs on secondary, less valued sites, that utilize the same pattern and aesthetic that are often used on more intensively used and maintained sites, resulting in landscapes that are easily overwhelmed by invasive plants and common weeds.  These landscapes quickly take on a look of neglect.  Management and staff of these landscapes would greatly benefit from staff in other bureaus that are actively engaged in this kind of work.

Ultimately, if we are to be successful with our landscapes such sharing between bureaus and agencies is essential.  The wider community, private residents and commercial interests can hardly be expected to take up this challenge when the City itself is not effectively addressing the issue.

Corridor Management: Transportation and Riverine

Division of State Lands

Tri-Met

P-BoT

O-DoT

Railroads

Electrical utilities

Multnomah County Bridges 

These landscapes are not even commonly thought of as landscapes.  If thought of at all they are incidental or leftovers, places that have little function beyond being space fillers, often long narrow strips that serve as buffers between distinctly different uses, often one that poses a safety hazard to the other.  Most of these are owned by governmental agencies though others, like the railroads are private.  The role of the OSL regarding these privately held properties as well as those owned by the State, County or Tri-Met will be primarily advisory.  Presumably when these owners purpose capital projects within the City they are required to meet pertinent codes as do other owners.  Conditions could be placed on them that would require maintenance plans or design modifications that would better meet the City’s sustainable landscape goals, i.e., controlling the spread and seeding of weeds and invasives on the City’s list of noxious plants.  In many cases adjacent private property owners have very limited access to parts of their landscape making maintenance very difficult.  The OSL could work with both owners to improve access or provide a process where one owner could gain permission to access their property for maintenance reasons via the others property.  These are some of our most problematic landscapes in the City due to their dimensions as narrow strips, their users and their limited access.  As I’ve written in other postings there are design solutions that could address at least some of these issues and it would be the OSL duty to promote them.

Outreach and Education

One of the most effective outreach and education strategies the City could pursue is the program I’ve laid out above.  In fact it is absolutely essential before the implementation of an outreach and education campaign to the broader public.  Without it citizens will readily recognize that the City lacks commitment to it which will undermine these efforts.  Committed and actively implemented to it the work will be enhanced as word and deed spread across the City.  The City’s landscapes will be a positive example for the public rather than the mixed bag that they present today.  Private landscapes are, in a sense, a reflection of our public landscapes, often neglected and degraded supporting populations of aggressive weed species and invasives.  The whole mess is deteriorating as invasives continue to spread across the wider landscape creating a more aggressive ‘baseline’ plant population, that defines our overall landscape.  The ‘norm’ is that that covers and populates our sprawling and neglected landscapes.  This new baseline signals an increase in the effort that is required simply to maintain the status quo, more weeds that we must monitor and over which we must remain ever vigilant.  All of this places more ‘weed pressure’ on our valued and productive landscapes, making them all that more expensive to protect and maintain.  Low care/ no care landscapes become that much less possible as more become repositories for weeds.  It is essential that the private citizens see their role in the problem and solution and are provided with support in the form of educational materials to help them along the way.

Much of this work would consist of presenting in a clear manner just what is meant by ‘sustainable landscapes’, plant communities, contrived landscapes and the differences in maintenance which includes good horticultural practice.  Horticultural practice is central to an effective approach to the problem of sustainable practice and the control of invasives.

Parks and public landscapes could provide informative signage that identifies the design type and a broad description of the maintenance required.  Brochures would be available as well and classes through PCC.  Walking tours of public landscapes could be offered by staff for the public.  Staff could also support public school programs offering mentoring and limited student employment opportunities to those active in the program.  The same could be offered to Community College student enrolled in horticulture programs, even cross over with PSU students to give them ‘grounding’ in the field and the opportunity to do ‘research’.  There are many opportunities including adult interest groups like the Oregon Hardy Plant Society, the Home Orchard Society and the Oregon Native Plant Society.

Interested and knowledgeable residents could be part of this effort if the OSL provided directly or through links, informative tags that could be attached to targeted plants in neglected landscapes that would include the plant’s description and general control strategies.  Residents would be encouraged not to just point out problem plants, but to connect with their neighbors and helping them with the control effort if wanted.  Such information already exists, it is only a matter of consolidating it and creating ‘digital’ tags.

Our public schools have some of our most neglected and poorly designed landscapes in the City.  This is a powerful message to their students, our children.  It says, ‘Landscapes don’t matter.’  This needs to be turned around providing some portion of students with the academic option of studying the landscapes combined with a field portion that gives them a responsible role in their maintenance and creation, providing them with mentoring options with professionals in the field, researchers in grad school and reinforcing the idea that this is valuable work.  Many students are not academically inclined and college will likely not be a viable option in their future.  This effort, should be a collaborative one in which all participants, regardless of their ‘level’ of participation, can understand and value the contributions of the other.

‘Regulatory’

A full examination of the City’s codes needs to be conducted to determine which may contribute to the problem and need correcting, because our landscape is a product of how we build and live here.  In fact this should be an ongoing process.  Such decisions are political and will involve many different stakeholders, doubtless with conflicting positions, but it is necessary that how ordinances and codes impact our landscapes is being given due consideration.  Past practice has largely dismissed it as described above.  It is hopeless to apply bandaids when we continue contributing to the problem on a regular basis. First stop what you are dong wrong, creating or supporting landscapes that we know contribute to the problem, that we know there is not the commitment to maintain.  In many cases it is obvious on paper, in design, that a landscape will ‘fail’.  Any urban landscape will fail without adequate and appropriate maintenance. Degraded landscapes cost us all whether we are active and vigilant in our gardens and landscapes or not.  The weed ‘pressures’ result in dollar costs to others either through the extra work that is required of them to ‘resist’ this ‘pressure’ or the costs that are then deferred on others by neglecting to responsibly care for our landscapes in a timely manner.  This is irresponsible and should not be condoned.

Horticultural and ecologist staff routinely conduct evaluations of the landscapes on their properties.  Part of this is identifying the ‘threats’ around them and what they can do about them.  Often, currently, when the threats come from adjacent properties, there is little they can do other than reaching out and asking the property owner to participate in controlling problems on their own properties.  This, in my experience rarely worked, sometimes because property managers are well versed in what the City allows and limits.  With coordination from the OSL changes in the City’s codes and ordinances can be identified to help address problems on the ground.  Other staff from the Commissioners offices and the Nuisance Bureau can help ‘craft’ the specific changes.

In many cases, whether on commercial or residential property, invasive plants have overwhelmed whatever landscape was once there.  Many owners have conceded the ‘battle’ well before this point.  These properties place huge pressure on properties within their influence, an area that varies depending upon how seed is spread.  These properties are either owner occupied or serve as income properties.  Income properties are those earning rents, serve as the location upon which their businesses operate and earn income or are those being held or developed for sale.  These will be required to absorb the costs of implementing a plan to bring their properties into compliance through redesign and maintenance that will control the listed invasive or nuisance plants as identified above.  Owner occupiers will be required to implement a plant to bring their property into compliance as well.  At minimum these plans will stop seed production and their movement offsite to other properties, though owners will be encouraged to eliminate the plants from their properties, ideally creating sustainable landscape/plant communities.  Invasive control and landscape care will become a given as a part of responsible land ownership.

This problem is a ‘reflection’ of our habit as a political entities to build new projects that over reach our commitment to maintain them in a responsible way.  Even when we write into law that new capital projects shall only be approved and built when maintenance monies are secured for them, we find ourselves in a future in which we are constantly falling behind the maintenance 8-ball, going to residents time and again for bond projects to address decades of deferred maintenance.  Politically it is too easy to budget monies ‘committed’ to one thing to another of more current political interest.  Once done it is rare that this budget gap is closed in a timely manner.  So, we build new projects, transit systems, schools, parks, roadways, etc. with inadequate funding available to maintain what we already have.  We do this as individuals with our homes and often with our businesses, failing to set aside enough money for the new roof and paint or differing routine maintenance because it is incidental to our priorities.  Psychologists and child development specialists might identify this as a maturation issue at both an individual and societal level where we continually expect someone else to take care of our problems, or that we can simply move on before we are forced to take responsibility ourselves.  At some point the problem becomes impossible to continue to ignore, the bill comes due.  Then the argument begins in earnest over whether or not we can afford to fix it or we give up utterly.  What then, we must ask, are we leaving to our children.

Not every problem need be identified with a strategy for addressing it developed before we begin.  Priorities and political will will shift.  Flexibility and readiness will be an asset as we move ahead…as long as we remain committed to the long view of sustainable landscapes.  We may not have to solve ‘every’ problem at least with a law or regulation especially if we are successful in ‘activating’ and sensitizing the public to the problem.  They may take action on their own that addresses some of these without antagonizing more of the public than is necessary by new programs and rules.

There are only a handful of nuisance ordinances covering the landscape all of which tend to focus on public safety.  None address the economic burden that neglected properties can place on adjacent property owners and gardeners.  The costs are very real.  Also is the fact that most people hate nuisance ordinances as they are a ‘hammer’ approach to the problem, treating all the same with little regard to the severity of the problem or the property owners history on the site, their neglect or response.  There needs to be some way of sweetening, incentivizing, this program.

The City has compiled a ‘Nuisance Plant List’ (NL) ranking invasive plants within it as either A, B, C, D or W with an additional ‘Eradication List’.  While this is an important list and meaningful for Field Ecologists and those with a strong background in Botany, it is less help as a tool with the public.  The general public neither has the experience nor, in many or most cases, the interest in learning this.  While a good educational tool to use to educate people regarding the spread and seriousness of this problem it is probably more confusing than it is helpful in their own landscapes. Distinguishing weeds from many native wildflowers, which themselves, many people wrongly see as weeds, will be near impossible for many people.  One of the NL’s main criteria for inclusion in the A, B, C or D Lists, is a plant’s distribution, its ubiquitousness or pervasiveness, how commonly found within the City, it may be. There is also a ‘Watch List’, ‘W’, of weeds that are potential problems, but without an established population. There is a disconnect between these and the actions called for in the form of an Eradication List that has selected none of the common invasives that present huge and still widely spreading threats to both natural areas and the landscapes that comprise our neighborhoods with which we have the most regular contact. While it makes sense to stop the increasing numbers of species that are proving to be invasive it gives the impression that we are conceding the landscape to those that are already established.  Most people aren’t horticulturists, botanists or field ecologists.  The message has to be clarified and brought home to them, literally to where people live and are most impacted.  Giving equal or greater weight to the plants that are not an issue for them but pose primary threats to still intact or protected natural areas removes it from their concern.  Targeting of the plants threatening ‘our’ shared urban landscape will more likely gain converts who can then look more broadly at the threats posed to more ‘distant’ landscapes.  This list seems to give a ‘pass’ to the biggest current threats.  If we are ever to get a grip on this problem it will happen when regular residents are drawn in to the effort.  It is important to target plants that people can identify, that they have a ‘relationship’ with in order to ground it.  Ignoring the common ‘thugs’ because they are so pervasive because they exceed the abilities of public entities to adequately control them, undermines the effort, leading residents to doubt the City’s claims.  People notice what is happening, what is going on, around them.  They have to recognize the ‘big’ things, the invasives in their own yards and neighborhoods before they can see the ‘small’ ones elsewhere.

We need a simplified Resident’s List of the invasives that pose the biggest threats to their own landscapes today.  Educational components need to be coupled with traditional nuisance ‘actions’.  Hammering a local gardener with threats to fine them for having a plant wins no converts.  One can also question the need for this when the identified nuisance plant is miles from any intact natural area where it may pose a genuine threat.  Education is a better solution.  If the landscape is close to a susceptible natural area education should still precede any ‘threats’.  If a property owner refuses to participate or acknowledge the problem, then go after them, but don’t go out making enemies of the people that you need on your side.

Something also needs to be done with the problem of complaint generated nuisances.  The current system results in miner infractions being hit hard while larger land owners, often those with few concerned neighbors, get by unbothered while they take no action to control the invasives on their properties.

Sustainable landscapes, invasive plants, the disconnect between design and our stated goals and our maintenance practices are a significant and seemingly intractable problem that is in fact ‘solvable’, but we cannot get there through simple political insistence that these things are important to us.  We have to act effectively, stopping the practices that we know are in fact contributing to the problem, first, and then retooling and reimagining the ways that we do the work.  Part of the problem has been how work has been divvied up and another has been the low priority it has be given.  If something does indeed matter then our priorities should reflect it otherwise its decline is inevitable.  The formation of a coordinating office, Office of Sustainable Landscapes, with oversight across all landscapes, will better assure that they are neither lost in the budgeting process nor slighted by their effective low priority.  The solution is a participatory and inclusive one requiring that we all play our role.  The organizational structure and specialization upon which we have based our work combined with the low prioritization of landscapes has brought us to where we are today.  Any solution that fails to address all of these issues is doomed to failure.  Our present course will inevitably lead us to landscapes, across the region, that are simultaneously more degraded and volatile and more expensive to maintain in such a state.  The weed/invasive pressure on all landscapes will continue to increase over time unless we seriously address this which will in turn place ever more ‘pressure’ on surrounding, relatively intact, natural landscapes, in an ever widening radius.  The problem is a common one across our society, inherent in how we live and do business.  We can change this if we decide to.

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