Sinners, scapegoats or fashion victims? Understanding the deaths of trees in the green city
Kirkpatrick, JB and Davison, A and Daniels, GD, Sinners, scapegoats or fashion victims? Understanding the deaths of trees in the green city, Geoforum, 48 pp. 165-176. ISSN 0016-7185 (2013) [Refereed Article]
The emergence of urban green governance has given prominence to the role of trees in sustainable cities. Earlier ideas of trees as urban adornment and providers of amenity are giving way to understanding of the urban forest as green infrastructure. Urban trees are taking on the normative resonance of ‘nature’ previously reserved in sustainability discourse for nonurban environments. Yet a governing consensus that urban trees are good is not necessarily accepted by all. Despite extensive research on tree benefits, little is known about social resistance to urban trees. In Australia, anecdotal evidence suggests that many tree lovers perceive a countervailing force of tree haters who are responsible for tree injury and death through acts of revenge, scapegoating, displaced emotion and sheer loathing. This perception frames dislike of trees as social deviance rather than as a legitimate expression of complex intersubjective aspirations and concerns. In investigating the existence or otherwise of anti-arboreal forces, we report on a survey of residents in six eastern Australian cities that explored motivations underlying tree planting and removal. Rather than rejecting trees outright, most respondents expressing negative attitudes towards trees did so in the context of espousing the value of the ‘right tree’ in the ‘right place’. The chief motivations for the removal of healthy trees were aesthetic and lifestyle preferences, linked to wider cultural dynamics of individuation and commodification, followed by moral considerations, linked to wider cultural dynamics related to nativism. The findings suggest that to reduce the turnover of private trees,advocates of the urban forest have to expand their engagement with residents beyond a current focus on technical discourses of tree services and regulatory controls. This expanded engagement needs to account for the full range of subjective factors that influence tree preferences.
aboriphobia, Australian cities, commodification, morality, resident attitudes, urban greening, urban sustainability, urban trees