Los Angeles Needs More Shade Trees

by Karoline Steavenson

When you fly to various other cities around the country you’ll see a variety of habitats from the air. Over the Midwest you’ll see a quilt of farmland broken up by groves of woods, rivers, ponds and lakes. Over the Southwest you’ll see barrenness, like this photograph of New Mexico from 35,000 feet:

Photo of a southern section of New Mexico.


But when you fly over Los Angeles you’ll see a desert that humanity has tried to turn into something other than desert for over 100 years.

L.A. doesn’t get much natural rainfall, so many years ago developer and entrepreneur William Mulholland designed a way to divert water from the Owens Valley, far north of L.A., and bring it here.  Without this water the city never would have been able to grow into the metropolis it is now. The aqueduct system that brings us water from the north was also expanded in the 1970s.

In spite of all this trouble to bring water to L.A., the city is still low on trees in my opinon. Many species of trees are some of the most water efficient plants homeowners and cities can invest in. Here is evidence of how the city and county needs more trees:

Los Angeles County from the air.



There are thousands upon thousands of rooftops lying bare to the heat of the sun. Trees branches offer shade and that shade over homes and yards slows the evaporation of water from the ground and cools off homes. But look at all the naked rooftops in L.A.

A portion of the L.A. River.



Many areas  beside the L.A. River are barren and bereft of trees. The cement developers used to encase the river prevents flooding. That helped real estate developers build homes and businesses up against the river, but it also took away all the natural opportunities trees had to drop seeds and have them grow beside this water source.

We could remedy this. Those of us who live here now could tell our leaders we want the L.A. River to be repopulated with trees. They’d have to be planted by humans and managed by humans, but it could be done. The L.A. River could be surrounded by trees.

Downtown is also low on trees.



If you’ve spent any time downtown and you love trees, you will notice that many areas of the city center are treeless. There are plans on the table to build a large park downtown. There are even plans to build a giant park by putting a roof on the 101 freeway and covering it with sod.

But a simple, inexpensive, enduring-for-generations fix to the barrenness of downtown would be to plant trees now. Even if the city had to build an irrigation system for these city trees that would surely cost far less than trying to build a park on top of the 101 freeway.

Trees can save our lives because they create oxygen. As the carbon dioxide levels in our air increase thanks to our use of fossil fuels to power cars, trucks, other vehicles, and create electricity,  trees and the oxygen they make can help offset those CO2 levels.

We made this environmental mess.  We also have the power to clean it up.


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Denise Vastola said,

    What a great piece! Do you know what happened into the mayor’s million trees campaign? Did they ever plant them? http://www.milliontreesla.org/mtabout.htm

    • 2

      Karoline Steavenson said,

      I am not sure how the Million Trees initiative is going. I looked for some articles about it in the L.A. Times
      and found some commentaries from 2007 and a partial fundraiser for the program from 2010.

      Personally, I think the program was started so long ago when the city was fat with income
      that’s it’s become rather irrelevant now. After all, when people can’t afford to keep their homes,
      feed their kids, and can’t find full-time jobs, planting trees becomes a low priority.

      I think one problem is that we have so many landlords here in L.A. How do
      we get them to plant trees? Landlords tend to want the lowest maintenance yards possible
      and they certainly don’t want any liability for kids climbing trees and falling out or trees
      falling over in a storm. That’s why the city and county have to take on the project and fill
      urban parkways with them. The city can’t expect landlords to care and landlords make up somewhere
      around 50% of property owners in the city.

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