Suburbs - General Topics

Twin Cities Suburbs
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FISHMANPET
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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby FISHMANPET » July 14th, 2015, 9:47 am

True NIMBYs can take any legitimate objection and distort it to be illegitimate. That doesn't make the concept illegitimate, just means you need to make sure that when someone complains about <thing> that they're actually concerned about that thing specifically and not just using it as their ball of mud they throw at the wall to see what sticks.

If you (general you, not you specifically mnmike) care about trees, then you should consistently care about trees. If you start to only care about trees for a certain class of project (sidewalks and teardowns) but not others (driveways and road widenings) then your motivations will look a little suspect and it will look like you have a pro-car agenda to push, not a pro tree agenda. (And that goes the other way too, if you care about trees when it comes to road widening and driveways but not for sidewalks, then you're not pro-tree, and you're no worse than anti-change NIMBYs).

The problem I see is that it's so hard to figure out what's a legitimate complaint and what's just an attempt to stop change.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby mnmike » July 14th, 2015, 9:50 am

See, I know you aren't referring to me...but in areas like the hood I am talking about, I really fail to see this "pro car agenda" crowd diluting what would actually be about loss of trees. At all. Try to widen a street in the Browndale neighborhood, just try. And most were pleased with the new sidewalks recently added to the hood as long as they were not destructive to trees or their root systems. There is no secret pro car agenda in these areas...people pay a premium (some of the highest price per sq foot numbers in the metro) to live here, and not Eden Prairie. There may be people that just don't want to see change, but to twist that into some weird (yet common to hear on this board) pro car agenda is silly...to me. In other areas perhaps, but in the areas this is happening most (SW Mpls, SLP, Eastern part of Edina), no. Just no. Most don't even have 2 car garages here.

PS, as I said earlier, I think the real issue is with large scale developers coming into an area and buying up multiple lots...perhaps starting with more guidelines on situations like that...but not sure where to start. The bulk of issues don't seem to come from individuals purchasing and re-building. And I mean guidelines in general, not just trees. Though like Matt said, perhaps requiring the use of a city forester or something, along with requirements of saving a certain percentage of mature trees would be one solution on the topic of trees. Because, kind of pointless if the only tree you save is the most disease prone one!

My parents have 2 80 foot American Elms on their property...both have had Dutch Elm Disease, about 10 years ago, and both are healthy. They can be saved if it is caught early, a lot of people don't know that! Though certainly not the most desirable tree to have on your property for that reason! Have to watch them for DED.

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sdho
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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby sdho » July 14th, 2015, 1:03 pm

mnmike wrote:Burr oaks easily live to be 500.
Find me a Burr oak in an urban area that lived to be 500. There is a theoretical life and a practical service life where it's exposed to the stresses of an urban environment. (See: all the elms and ash trees that have had to be removed from boulevards.) My impression it that that life is usually 50 years or less, with some beautiful (but rare) exceptions.
mnmike wrote:In the case of Browndale, many of the tear down replacements are much more outer ring suburban in characteristics than neighboring homes, and are not adding any density. Still SFH.
This is a very tricky one for me, too. On the one hand, I'd rather people be moving to the urban core of MSP, not building on farmfields just because they want a new (or big) home. There are tens of thousands of lots in the first ring large enough to reasonably accommodate a 4000 sq ft home that have a 1000 sq ft home on it today. Yeah, you're not increasing density because it will still be a single-family there. But you are, in fact, reinvesting in older neighborhoods and providing an alternative to new, greenfield development.

However, there is obviously a point at which the cost to the neighborhood is too great. I think a clear point is when multiple lots (homes) are combined, cleared, and a single new home is built. When the entire front of a lot becomes a curb cut or entire front lawn becomes a driveway is another clear point. The line with trees seems much hazier -- I don't see anything wrong with removing trees that make it impossible to build out the lot to its potential, but removing them all simply for convenience does seem wrong.

One last thought: Eden Prairie is the way it is (winding streets, isolated single-family zoning, big lots) in large part because of a vision of preserving natural space, wetlands, and trees. Minneapolis is the way it is because they pretty much cleared out what was there and built what worked for a city. Today, we obviously can't and shouldn't take the shortcuts of developers in early Minneapolis -- just filling in wetlands, etc. But an absolute desire not to change the natural characteristics at all can have very urban-unfriendly outcomes.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby mattaudio » July 14th, 2015, 1:06 pm

^yes, the whole "PROTECTING GREEN SPACE!!!" thing, which is actually used by a lot of people to guard against density and intensification of land use.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby mnmike » July 14th, 2015, 1:20 pm

sdho wrote:
mnmike wrote:Burr oaks easily live to be 500.
Find me a Burr oak in an urban area that lived to be 500. There is a theoretical life and a practical service life where it's exposed to the stresses of an urban environment. (See: all the elms and ash trees that have had to be removed from boulevards.) My impression it that that life is usually 50 years or less, with some beautiful (but rare) exceptions.
Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration...I should have said 300. 200+ is very common, actually, for those trees, even in the city. I recall the oldest in Minneapolis died several years ago and was thought to be close to 350. Urban trees live a lot longer than 50 years, there are probably a dozen examples of that on my block alone in south Minneapolis....not rare at all. The oaks that are in Browndale park appear in my mothers childhood photos, already very large trees, and she is 66. There are 4 trees in my parents yard that pre-date the construction of the house, in 1947(interesting side bar actually, the couple that built the house came by with original pics once). But I digress. I know my trees. lol.

Anyway, again, I am not saying I am against reinvestment in older neighborhoods in the form of tear downs at all! It's just something that I think needs to be done somewhat thoughtfully, and for a lot of municipalities dealing with this wave of it the past several years, it is something of a fairly new concept. At least in the amounts that it is happening. I know Edina actually hired on some full time people to handle the process, which is great. Cities are now rushing to put some guidelines (where many cities had none for this situation!) on this big trend, which I think are much needed. Overall I do think it is great to see the demand, yes.
Last edited by mnmike on July 14th, 2015, 1:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby RailBaronYarr » July 14th, 2015, 1:32 pm

I think people, in general, need to come to a conclusion on what things they like or don't like. For example, shade is great when it comes from trees. But apparently not great when it comes from a 4-6 story apartment. My block of Fremont Ave S (35-36th) is very well shaded by trees, and I love it. Lots of huge, old trees. But I think the block could feel just as comfortable with smaller trees in the boulevard providing some cover and shade/framing from nearby, taller buildings (ex. https://youtu.be/11Bgv9oDdBA )

I'm with Sean that there's a tricky line. Maybe the city should have more influence on what's in or near the boulevard than trees in the back/side yards. But there are benefits (as Anondson states) to having greater tree coverage in general. There's probably no "right" answer here.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby Viktor Vaughn » July 14th, 2015, 1:41 pm

I don't disagree with the thrust of your post, but trees have the advantage of providing shade in the summer and letting sunlight through in the winter. An apartment building could shade a whole winter's worth of precious sunlight and provide little shade in the summer.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby mnmike » July 14th, 2015, 1:49 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:I think people, in general, need to come to a conclusion on what things they like or don't like. For example, shade is great when it comes from trees. But apparently not great when it comes from a 4-6 story apartment. My block of Fremont Ave S (35-36th) is very well shaded by trees, and I love it. Lots of huge, old trees. But I think the block could feel just as comfortable with smaller trees in the boulevard providing some cover and shade/framing from nearby, taller buildings (ex. https://youtu.be/11Bgv9oDdBA )

I'm with Sean that there's a tricky line. Maybe the city should have more influence on what's in or near the boulevard than trees in the back/side yards. But there are benefits (as Anondson states) to having greater tree coverage in general. There's probably no "right" answer here.

I agree with the 2nd statement and that there is probably no "right" answer, but comparing shade from trees to shade from apartment buildings...I don't know about that. Just because I like the shade from a leafy green tree, that should mean that by default I like the shade from a 4 story building just as well? And if I don't like them the same I am anti development (that part seemed implied by your statement..perhaps I am off)? You lost me on that one, those are very different things. Hey, on the plus side, in this climate, the apartment will provide year round shade! Oh wait, less shade is better in the winter:)

PS, you live a block from me. ha.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby sdho » July 14th, 2015, 2:48 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:For example, shade is great when it comes from trees. But apparently not great when it comes from a 4-6 story apartment.
Hah, this. I agree with Viktor -- deciduous trees do a great seasonal duty, still letting sun through in the winter, while providing shade when we want it most. But I think most people who object to shadows from single-family buildings do so regardless of this difference. Something feels more oppressive about a concrete building than a mature tree, I guess.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby RailBaronYarr » July 14th, 2015, 2:57 pm

Obviously there's nuance. I guess the whole letting light through in the winter doesn't matter much to me - when it's cold, it's cold. Tree branches still filter the light, and the sun is at a low enough angle even mid-day, that whatever benefits you get from trees vs. buildings seem marginal. But yes, a blocky building is more oppressive than a tree.

Maybe I'm saying we should have the city focus more on regulating things with measurable, public benefits that outweigh measurable costs. Saying we want X% tree coverage in our city because it reduces urban heat island effect or improves air quality for everyone in the city is a good goal. Saying we want X% tree coverage because it improves so-and-so's property values is not a great reason to require something. IMO, obviously (are we still joking about that?)

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby woofner » July 14th, 2015, 3:16 pm

Not to pile on, but besides shade, trees provide other important ecosystem benefits that apt buildings typically don't, such as soil stabilization, water cycle functions, and habitat (certain apt buildings have some advantages for the last). This provides an important police power rationale for their regulation.

However, when using police power to justify limiting a landowner's ability to remove their trees, you usually run into the very valid point that trees are renewable resources. So the best regulations incentivize retaining trees by requiring lots of expensive replanting.

I'm not sure Edina's regulation (as stated in the strib article) does all that good of a job. Considering that most of these situations are teardowns replaced with a larger footprint, not requiring replacement of trees within 10' of the footprint of the house seems too generous. Portland, OR, on the other hand, requires trees of greater than 12" trunk diameter to be replaced inch by inch (actually that's only if 5 or more trees of that size are torn down, or 1 or more tree greater than 20" in diameter, and there are many other exceptions, such as for non-native species). I think every city should have a replanting ordinance, but somewhere between those two extremes is probably better.
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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby Daboink » July 14th, 2015, 6:08 pm

I grew up in East Bloomington in a rambler typical of your second generation of postwar housing stock, built in an area that in the 30's and 40's was still mostly prairie and wetland. By the time my parents purchased the home, most lots in the neighborhood that weren't lucky enough to have had original native trees on them had developed decent tree cover over the 25-30 years since the area was developed. There was enough for summer shade, enough to climb, and enough to make fall a chore. At some point one summer (1997??) while I was away at camp, straight-line winds decimated much of the trees in about a 10 block area. I came home and didn't recognize some blocks. What had existed as part of my neighborhood's character, perhaps its most redeeming quality was suddenly gone. It looked awful.

My parents had a tree in their front yard go down and tried valiantly over the next 4 years to keep it upright again with chains and posts, and when it finally fell for the last time, they spent extra on trucking in a larger replacement tree so that they would see shade again in their lifetimes. Some neighbors never planted again, and those always seem to be the houses longest on the market when up for sale. They don't look inviting. Nothing says "sanctuary" about them.

Undoubtedly this experience has colored my views, but for that reason I believe all efforts should be made to preserve trees on tear down lots whenever possible. And how many times on this site do people post about "how good the green looks" with a development. Our best looking 1920's era brownstones are the ones with enormous shade trees out front, proof that some added density is possible while having trees. Granted these were planted after construction, but the appearance is striking. To me that says make an effort to save and plant more. Idk.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby sdho » July 15th, 2015, 9:57 am

^ Interesting story. Although in a sense, I think this bolsters my point: trees do blow down, or die of disease, or for some other reason die. The biggest issue is not restoring them. Yes, of course, it still sucks to lose blocks of mature trees to be replaced by saplings. But well-cared-for young (say, 1-2" caliper) trees can still create a nice amount of shade in even 5 years.

But, when not replaced, the yard tends to feel pretty barren. I've seen this in areas of Richfield, too, and it's a real shame. I get that trees are a discouraging expense at the time of their removal -- but *planting* trees is so cheap, I'm surprised anybody doesn't plant anew for $100 + a hole and some commitment to water.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby David Greene » July 15th, 2015, 10:28 am

UrsusUrbanicus wrote:If we mistakenly knock out beautiful and/or functional older buildings, their styles and functions can at least be imitated when we rebuild.
But that's not really true. Old buildings are far better-constructed than new buildings because the materials were much better. Those materials aren't available anymore, for precisely the same reason we want to save a mature canopy.

Placemaking elements go beyond pure aesthetics in my mind, exactly as Anondson states (shade, cooling effect, etc.). In my mind, building quality is at least as important as building aesthetics and function. The other two may overrule the first but I believe we should consider all three (and probably other aspects) when considering building preservation.

And of course, there are things beyond builds and trees worth preserving. Perhaps we ought to spin off a thread on this because it's an important discussion to have as our region changes.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby David Greene » July 15th, 2015, 10:38 am

RailBaronYarr wrote:Maybe I'm saying we should have the city focus more on regulating things with measurable, public benefits that outweigh measurable costs.
That can be useful, but it becomes a dangerous road when measurement is used to the exclusion of everything else. Some benefits are not measurable, just as some costs are not measurable.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby sdho » July 15th, 2015, 10:39 am

David Greene wrote:Old buildings are far better-constructed than new buildings because the materials were much better.
I hear this thrown around all the time, but living in a house that's 70 years old (and spending a lot of time working on my boyfriend's house that's 110 years old), I'm really not sure this is true.

Sure, floorboards are "higher quality" (more material-intensive, and more expensive today) than OSB or plywood. Plaster walls are "higher quality" (more material-intensive, and more expensive today), but worse in any practical way than drywall. Solid rafters are again, more material-intensive and expensive than modern I-beams, but I'm not sure they're any better.

Older construction warped and cracked much more, had far worse electrical, HVAC, plumbing, fire protection. A casual Google search yields this, which also points out that modern roofs and foundations last longer, more reliably, too: http://crosslandteam.com/blog/2007/12/2 ... lt-better/

The fact that the trim was solid wood and not painted foam or MDF is great, but doesn't make any fundamental difference to the longevity of the house.

Not to say we should bulldoze everything and replace it with new. What is practical to keep should be kept, and important pieces should be preserved even if impractical. But I think we should acknowledge that -- despite cheap finishes that abound -- new construction is faster, safer, and much more environmentally responsible with materials.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby David Greene » July 15th, 2015, 10:41 am

Daboink wrote:I came home and didn't recognize some blocks. What had existed as part of my neighborhood's character, perhaps its most redeeming quality was suddenly gone. It looked awful.
You can still see some of this effect on Portland Ave. around 40th-46th streets from the tornado a few years ago. When I first drove down there after the storm, I was shocked at how much it looked like a brand new suburban development. In a way it was kind of neat to take a step back in time and see how things looked when those houses and apartments were first built, but they undoubtedly looked better with mature trees.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby FISHMANPET » July 15th, 2015, 10:49 am

sdho wrote:
David Greene wrote:Old buildings are far better-constructed than new buildings because the materials were much better.
I hear this thrown around all the time, but living in a house that's 70 years old (and spending a lot of time working on my boyfriend's house that's 110 years old), I'm really not sure this is true.
Also, it's not really fair to compare the houses that have stood for 70-100 years with the full stock of what's being built right now. I'm sure not all of it will last 70-110 years. I'm quite sure not everything built 70-100 years has lasted until today.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby David Greene » July 15th, 2015, 10:50 am

sdho wrote:
David Greene wrote:Old buildings are far better-constructed than new buildings because the materials were much better.
I hear this thrown around all the time, but living in a house that's 70 years old (and spending a lot of time working on my boyfriend's house that's 110 years old), I'm really not sure this is true.

Older construction warped and cracked much more, had far worse electrical, HVAC, plumbing, fire protection. A casual Google search yields this, which also points out that modern roofs and foundations last longer, more reliably, too: http://crosslandteam.com/blog/2007/12/2 ... lt-better/
I really gotta disagree with that web page. When we had our shingles redone, the roofers said they might have to replace the 100+ year old roof decking. When they looked at it, they decided the wood was of much better quality than what they'd put on so they left it alone.

Almost every one of the complaints about old homes in that article can be addressed. We're looking at putting in high-velocity A/C in our house. We've put new shingles on. We redid all the siding (with cedar clapboard, not ugly vinyl). The electrical was upgraded before I bought the place. Much of the plumbing is now copper. The walls and attic were insulated by a previous owner. We had the original windows reconditioned and weatherstripped and put on new storm windows. I like the radiant heating *so* much better than forced-air. It's not even close. Plaster is easy to replace.

In fact, the only things "falling apart" in the house are things that had been remodeled: bathroom and kitchen mainly plus the nasty inline water heater that was spewing CO into the basement (!).

Yes, it's expensive but if you do it over a number of years or decades it's not too bad. It shouldn't be much more expensive than building new, and is likely less expensive. And what you end up with is better than what would be built today.

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Re: Suburbs - General Topics

Postby FISHMANPET » July 15th, 2015, 11:12 am

Sean has an anecode of two older houses that are not that great anymore. He has provided a counter example to the "all old homes are better built" claim.

You David have provided an anecdote about your house and used your singular experience to extrapolate to all old homes.

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