Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Seattle Parks Chief "Tim Gallagher falls in the forest…will anybody hear?" (with video) (Updated)

UPDATE: Publicola posts "Mayor McGinn Talks Budget Cuts, Parks." The short answer to Kirk Prindle's question: "No, Hizzoner did not hear Gallagher falling."

Tim Gallagher
Kirk Prindle, with video (00:42)from Michael Oxman:
The abrupt resignation of Seattle parks director Tim Gallagher provides yet another valuable opportunity for all of us to assess civic priorities at this unique time in our great city’s history. As we struggle with the many repercussions of this fiscal crisis, city leaders are beginning to acknowledge an important truth already recognized by so many of Seattle’s informed citizens: Seattle’s economy and unique way of life are intrinsically tied to its natural environment.

Seattle’s now-iconic artificial landmarks (e.g. the Space Needle) are worthy of appreciation for their contributions to promoting the Seattle way-of-life to the great benefit of our local economies and community progress. But, for visitors and residents alike, the “Seattle experience” is still defined by its singular natural elements – the Sound, the mountains, the trees – and especially by the intimate integration of a thriving urban community within a truly unique Pacific Northwest native environment.

We foster sustainable local economies and promote a very valuable Seattle civic legacy to the extent that we consider the importance of environmental conservation with every significant community development decision. It is unclear if Mr. Gallagher had the experience and necessary perspective to understand the need to always give priority to this consideration with the loss of his job being only one of the least important significant consequences.

The press has focused on a hyped-up controversy alleging wanton travel expenses as reason for Mr. Gallagher’s blunt departure (although his actual travel expenses for this year remain below the total budgeted for the parks director). But, the press and Mr. Gallagher fail to acknowledge how a specific lack of necessary perspective in Seattle parks leadership resulted in practical on-the-ground decisions that could not continue to be ignored by a community so well-versed in a comprehensive understanding of what true sustainability means for our city.

Tim Gallagher’s parks department had been criticized for relying on an antiquated perspective of “clear-cut and rebuild” on two recent parks-managed city projects – installation of the Pacific Connections Garden in the arboretum and “renovation” of Plum Tree Park in the Central District. (See this and this.) In both instances, the preservation of existing healthy mature trees could have both helped to sustain an important (and economically valuable) civic legacy while also providing specific tangible community benefits.

In the case of the arboretum clear-cut, the simple retention of mature healthy native trees along Lake Washington Boulevard would have maintained one of the few treed arterials existing in our city – with the formidable contiguous tree canopy of the boulevard a consistent draw for tourists and residents alike. In the case of Plum Tree Park…well…it would have been nice to keep the defining plum tree in Plum Tree Park. In both instances, retention of existing trees would have resulted in direct cost savings in terms of project design, installation and maintenance. The fact that the extreme irony of a clear cut in the arboretum (you know, “a place for trees”) and the removal of the plum tree from Plum Tree Park can be conveniently ignored perhaps provides a telling indication of where we are with sustainable tree management decisions in Seattle.

Mr. Gallagher’s departure will not be in vain if it results in a recalibration of priorities informing the understanding of civic leaders on the connection between environmental conservation – here, specifically tree preservation – and comprehensive Seattle sustainability. At this critical time in our history, an informed perspective on the value of environmental conservation to maintaining thriving economies and local communities is needed by leaders in all levels of government and, certainly, by all department heads in the great city of Seattle.
Howie P.S.: The West Seattle Blog and the Seattle Times chime in.

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