Paving Paradise

By: 
Merry Colvin

It was never exactly paradise, but they paved it anyway.

In Lisa Boone’s June 27th L.A. Times article, “Dream on Elm Street,” is a list of places you can go to see trees. Trees! Remember those? It cites two locations in Long Beach – El Dorado Nature Center and Rancho Los Alamitos – and several other places to “find shade” in the L.A. area. Unfortunately, some of these places require an admittance and/or parking fee and have “limited hours.”

For those of us familiar with the 1970 Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi,” the lyrics have proven ominously prophetic: “They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot... They took all the trees / Put ‘em in a tree museum / And they charged the people / A dollar and a half just to see ‘em.” According to Boone’s article, it’s now more like $5 to $9 – inflation, of course – and some of these “tree museums” are cash-only. Ironically, you may also be charged to use the parking lot.

Here in our fair city of Long Beach I have noticed, in the 20-plus years that I have lived here, a definite change in the tree canopy – which the city, somehow maintaining a straight face, refers to as an “urban forest.” With the prioritization of development, the pandering to developers, and the lack of a tree ordinance, trees and the environment are certainly not a priority.

Our city officials are very busy “paving paradise” and putting up not only parking lots, but road diets, bike lanes and a City Hall and Civic Center that we not only don’t own but are renting from the developer for the next 40 years. Even aside of the many well-known benefits of trees – air quality, shade, habitat, increase in property values, etc. – trees provide a sense of place which is sorely lacking in this city.

I went to look for Long Beach the other day and I couldn’t find it. Each street I drove down had a miscellaneous smattering of trees, if there were any at all, many in bad repair and fewer and fewer of the grand old trees I remember. The city’s architecture is increasingly becoming a conglomeration of generic, faddish, developer-driven monotony, with less and less of the charm of old Long Beach. “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got / Till it’s gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot.”

So, I ask you, Mr. Mayor: when do we get our priorities in order? When do you move away from turning the whimsical lyrics of a 1970 folk song into a very unwhimsical reality? Or do we citizens have to hail the “big yellow taxi” to come find your elusive self and whisk you out of here through the skeletal and mostly paved remains of our “urban forest”?

“They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot / With a pink hotel, a boutique / And a swinging hot spot.”

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