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  1. #1

    Default the city of trees...

    I remember when Detroit was heavily forested with elms, the trimming process, spraying with DDT and the eventual loss of most of those stately trees. Anyone have information on the size and budget of the Detroit Forestry department in its heyday?

  2. #2

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    I hear you used to look down on Detroit from the Penobscot observation deck and it looked like a forest.

  3. #3

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    I understand there was some sort of disease that took most of the elms, but what also led to the de-forestation of Detroit?

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by tkelly1986 View Post
    I understand there was some sort of disease that took most of the elms, but what also led to the de-forestation of Detroit?
    Whenever you plant a monoculture, you get something that causes problems. In the case of the elms, most of them were cut down by city crews who were trying to control the blight. And then they turned around and planted another monoculture.

  5. #5

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    Detroitnerd: what do you mean by blight? I assume the dead trees from the disease? Or cut down because they were overgrowing abandoned neighborhood?

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by tkelly1986 View Post
    I understand there was some sort of disease that took most of the elms, but what also led to the de-forestation of Detroit?
    "Dutch" elm disease, so named because it was discovered by Dutch scientists, is a fungus that spread from Europe to America is several waves, beginning in the 40's. It came to our shores in infected wooden crates. The fungus was spread by Japanese beetles, travelling from tree to tree. Spraying and removing infected trees barely slowed its progress. Most of Detroit's streets were planted in American Elms and most were lost. It was a slow sad process to see the "tunnels" created by the canopies of these magnificent trees vanish from my neighborhood in the 60's.

  7. #7

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    I have a vague recollection of reading in the Fifth Estate, sometime in the early 70's, a claim that the real reason the elms were being cut down was to provide a clearer view for the new police helicopters.

  8. #8

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    Dutch Elm Disease has now killed off elms all over the country, but it was particularly devastating in Detroit, which had been planted with rows of American Elms along most of its streets. As referred to above, during the summer months this created a beautiful "tunnel" effect through much of the city that gave us cool, shaded streets and roofs.

    One of the central sense-memories of my '60s Detroit childhood is the constant sound of chainsaws cutting down the trees and of wood-chippers disposing of the logs. It's been my contention for many years that the loss of most of these trees within a few years in the '60s and '70s was a quiet contributor to the decline of many of the city's neighborhoods. The places now looked denuded and stark, meaning that folks were more willing to pull up stakes and go.

    As also referred to above, the city in many ways compounded the disaster of the Dutch Elm Disease by largely replacing one species with another and playing right into the plague of the Emerald Ash Borer.

  9. #9

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    Davelube's description is basically correct, except that while Dutch Elm disease is carried by beetles, they are not Japanese beetles; they are the European elm bark beetle (Scolytus multistriatus) and the native elm bark beetle (Hylurgopinus rufipes).

    Detroitnerd's statement that they replanted a monoculture may have been true in some parts of the city--I don't know-- but it was certainly not true in the University District. They had a plan for which trees would go where and they planted different kinds. While it is true that some of the trees they planted were ashes and those are mostly gone now, the big problem was that so many people didn't want trees at all, and they didn't plant a tree in front of your property unless you wanted them to. Based on my possibly faulty memory, I would guess that maybe a quarter of the trees that should have been planted were. In the last couple of years the Greening of Detroit has been able to do a lot of fill-in, so things should look a lot better in 20 years, and the G of D are definitely not planting a monoculture.

    And as EastsideAl says, I am sure that losing the trees made it easier for people to leave the neighborhoods behind.

  10. #10

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    Was just talking to my dad about the Dutch Elm disease in Detroit and, of course, he said it was devastating.

    He said that while working for Detroit Edison on a hot summer day it was always a relief to drive his car down one of elm-lined streets. The temperature would drop 10 or 15 degrees.

    Also he had an interesting story about the elm-lined streets of Detroit. One day when the temperatures were in the 90s, he parked his car in a gas station parking lot long enough for the interior of the car to get incredibly hot. When he came back to his car and left the lot, he turned directly on to a street filled with elm trees and then heard his back window snap. His entire back window crystallized. The heat from the interior of the car and the coolness of the street caused enough stress for the window to just shatter. Pretty amazing.

    He also said Rackham Golf Course lost hundreds of elm trees due to the disease. He wasn't sure of the amount 700??? maybe but in any case, it must have a totally different course back then.

    Wasn't around back then, but sure sounds like the city was a bit too proactive in getting rid of its elms.

    On the Internet, I could only find two photos of elm-lined streets in Detroit --

    http://www.esf.edu/pubprog/images/elm.jpg

    and one in this good thread in the DY archives -

    http://atdetroit.net/forum/messages/...tml?1152274095

    Wonder how those Liberty elms are holding up in SE Michigan.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brock7 View Post
    I have a vague recollection of reading in the Fifth Estate, sometime in the early 70's, a claim that the real reason the elms were being cut down was to provide a clearer view for the new police helicopters.
    you remember the story correctly. but it was a satire -- a made-up story.

  12. #12

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    DDT did a job on me, now I am a real sickie!!!

    not sure what they were spraying but i remember when i was young, around 1974-76 the trucks would come around with huge hoses that would spray up large blasts of whatever into the trees, lived on Chatsworth.... we didn't really think anything of standing with fallout distance of the spray, we were facinated as kids by the gun-like appraratus that sprayed so high into the air..... probably why fertility rates are dropping....

  13. #13

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    Blight is a disease or fungus of a plant. Sometimes they use them interchangably although that is not correct. Chestnuts had a blight. Elms had Dutch elm disease. Ashes have emerald ash borer (a pest), though Dutch elm disease was often spread by a pest. Honey locust have a decline. A general tendency to come down with problems probably because of over planting. Same for sugar maple decline. Are Bradford pears next?

  14. #14

  15. #15

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    I remember as a kid that they would report in advance where they were going to spray. My mother made us stay inside when they sprayed our area. But, we lost our trees anyway. The shock of going from a shaded tree-lined street to stark seemingly blinding brightness on our street sticks in my mind to this day.

  16. #16

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    This discussion made me think of Banksy's mural at the Packard Plant reading, "I remember when all this was trees." I now wonder if he intended it as a reference to Detroit's elms...

  17. #17

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    My grandparents lived near Moross and I-94 in the 80's. I remember them coming down their street cutting down all the dead elms vividly. It had a pretty huge impact on how nice the street looked.

    City governments tried getting some diversity in the 90's, but one of the trees they picked ended up being an invasive species, and now they're chopping them all down (I think it was the Norway Maple.)

    Now I see many cities using Ginkos in downtown areas, which is a good choice. They are hardy, disease and pest tolerant, and low maintenance. They are otherwise unpopular in urban environments because of their stinky fruit and *very* slow rate of growth, but they are proven to be die-hard survivors. They haven't changed much, genetically, in hundreds of millions of years, indicating an incredibly hardy makeup.

    Of course, other trees varieties should be planted as well.

  18. #18

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    Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the tree cathedral that Appoline was between Belton and Oakman in the Aviation Subdivision.

    The city trucks would park on our street for shade, and the National Guard took refuge there during the heat of the riotous summer of insurrection in '67.

    The trees they cut down were two to three feet in diameter...they'd been there a while.


    I wonder if this trauma is why I'm SO fond of trees, and so against their wanton elimination...like what Ford is doing around the perimeter of their test track even today. Wholescale destruction of living things...will we humans ever learn?!


    Cheers anyways, thanks for the memory jog.

  19. #19

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    In reference to xd's first link, it's amazing how much diference there is between the two photos. As far as improving a house/neighborhood you probably can't get more bang for the buck that you get from a nice looking tree.

  20. #20

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    Detroit was The Paris of the Midwest. Now its the BLACKTROPOLIS of America.

  21. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by mwilbert View Post
    Detroitnerd's statement that they replanted a monoculture may have been true in some parts of the city--I don't know-- but it was certainly not true in the University District. They had a plan for which trees would go where and they planted different kinds.
    It also wasn't (quite) true in the Warrendale neighborhood on the far west side. When the elm trees finally came down, they planted a series of different species; alternating each species from one street to the next. One street might get maple trees while the next got oak and so on.

    One could argue that this was still on a monoculture because all of the trees on a given street were of one species. But that's a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

  22. #22

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    New South cities like Atlanta and Charlotte reminds me of what Detroit may have been like back then. You get that canopy effect that was before my time here in the D.

  23. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by English View Post
    New South cities like Atlanta and Charlotte reminds me of what Detroit may have been like back then. You get that canopy effect that was before my time here in the D.
    Until you get to the sprawl part where it is rows and rows and rows of treeless houses,not a pretty sight.

  24. #24

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    Yeah, you get that in the desert states. I know people love NV and AZ, but to me it always feels like something is missing out of the landscape...

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by English View Post
    Yeah, you get that in the desert states. I know people love NV and AZ, but to me it always feels like something is missing out of the landscape...
    Oh, I dunno. Here's my home in Henderson (suburban Las Vegas). I have a tree. I have two trees. Nothing is missing except a lawnmower, which I don't have.

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