What Happens When Trees Go But Houses Stay?

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One of the survivors of the October 20th storms

Google street view is an unexpected tool to show the importance of maintaining mature landscaping. We all know about the devastating storms that hit north Dallas on October 20. We’ve seen the homes damaged and heard the stories of displaced residents both wealthy and poor.

But what this terrible event also allowed was a rare view of the reversal of mature landscaping.

When most areas are built-up, some developer comes in and flattens any trees and vegetation on a given parcel. This makes it easier to get construction equipment to the site, removing cost from a build. We also see the gap-toothed effect of new construction in mature areas when mature trees are removed to shoehorn in another McMansion. Over time, the saplings mature but it’s decades of waiting.

I think we underestimate the role trees play in a neighborhood’s perceived permanence – the kind of permanence valued by residents and buyers. I think this happens because we rarely get to see mature housing separated from its equally mature trees. October 20 gave us that window.

Recently I had an errand at Preston Road and Forest. I decided to leave the car in the parking lot and reverse-walk back to my old neighborhood by the Athena on Northwest Highway. It’s interesting to revisit old pathways. Walking to school from my childhood home as an adult sparked many memories.

Visualizing The Loss of Mature Trees

Tibbs and Northport: Before and After

On the route towards Northwest Highway, I noticed the stretch between Royal and Northwest Highway had seen the most damage. It began to dawn on me how different the mansions of Preston Hollow looked without their trees. On the way back, I took pictures that I’d figured I could match up with similar views from Google street view.

As you can see, the results are stark. Tree-lined streets where greenery masked much of the homes were taken back in time to when these homes were built and their trees unplanted.

Tibbs and Northport: Before and After

And I have to say, as an architecture buff, that the trees bring more to the ambiance table than the architecture. It was surprising. Preston Hollow’s sidewalk-less streets evoke a certain country flair. Without the trees, a more shiny-penny, suburban feel emerges.

This tells me a few things. First, even crappy suburban sub-divisions with good landscape plans will look a lot better in 30 years as the trees mature. Second, as those denuded sub-divisions are built, they need to be more mindful of the mature trees they have, perhaps even planting more mature saplings to give growth a headstart.

Tibbs and Brookshire: Before and After

Third, those mansion owners who are rebuilding should be more aware of their home design. Seeing blocks of exposed homes is the perfect laboratory to understand what different styles will look like in situ behind eventually regrown trees. This is doubly important as its realized how prominent the home will be until the new trees fill in.  Fourth, it’s also worth investing in more mature trees to speed a return of that lost canopy.

Finally, the City Plan Commission and council need to look harder at developer plans that call for tree removal. Some removals are necessary, but their replacements are of importance. A 50-year-old tree can’t be replaced by a 3-inch diameter sapling and called good.

Disasters result in many lessons being learned. Hopefully, the value of mature landscaping and trees is not lost. It certainly wasn’t on me.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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Comments

  1. Sam Hill says

    Great article and photos! The areas impacted by the 2019 storms have changed so much. Thank you for advocating for smart development that preserves mature trees.

  2. Steve says

    Spot on Jon. As a landscape architect and Preston hollow resident hit by the tornado the mature canopies are gone all around us and reversed this lush neighborhood. Our home spared except for the trees.

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