Finding the value in the trees of Creighton Court

As a part of my last job, I regularly drove through the neighborhood of Creighton Court to make deliveries. This is the second job that has brought me through this part of Richmond and for all these years I’ve been amazed by the huge, hardwood trees.

Looking north on Creighton from 9 mile
Looking north on 9 mile to I-64
Looking south on 29th

There are many articles already about why the redevelopment process is problematic in many ways and I support those efforts. What I want to add to the conversation now is an awareness of the existing trees and reasons to preserve them for whatever comes next. When I saw the plans for Creighton, I was disappointed to see that most of the trees on the design have been listed as uniform dots rather than left as the existing trees like you see along 9 Mile Rd. in the design below.

To be fair, the drawing doesn’t say explicitly that the trees will be torn down, but I’ve learned from experience not to trust Richmond to preserve them.

I used to live near the former Ethel Bailey Furman park in Church Hill. It was mostly an open field for dogs to run, pick-up baseball, ultimate frisbee, bike polo, and block parties. Around the perimeter of the park we’re around a dozen old, hardwood trees. When the city decided to build a school on the park property, the A&E firm they hired just erased them. I came home one day to a massive pile of roots and branches that had all been still in the ground when I left that morning. Here are some before photos:

And after:

The shade, the natural beauty, the sound break, the birds, and so much more are gone. In their place are Leland cypress and other predictable landscaping trees and shrubs. They didn’t even really need the space where the trees once grew because they were all around the perimeter of the lot. With some creativity they could have been preserved.

Now, in the 21st century, after all we’ve learned about the role that trees play in cooling our communities in a warming climate and how these trees are already rare in formerly redlined neighborhoods like Church Hill. With all of this knowledge, the city spent tax dollars to have these trees piled up and thrown away.

By the way, as insult to injury, the city said they were going to rebuild the park on another area of the lot and they never did.

So we come to Creighton Court and all the public housing communities in Richmond. If you look closely at the map on heat disparity in Richmond, these public housing communities (see arrow below) are not nearly as hot as Gilpin Court, the neighborhood most talked about, or even expensive neighborhoods like the Fan. My neighborhood elsewhere looks about the same shade of green as Creighton.

If the research is correct, much of that cooling affect is coming from the shade and transpiration of these old, beautiful trees. It would be such a shame for them to be taken away. Really, it should be a crime. If Richmond is taking climate change and equity seriously, the preservation of trees should be mandated. Planting a 10’ young tree (or several young trees) does not replace one that is 70’ tall. The trees do all the work, we just need to leave them alone.

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