Mikhail Manuel, Claremont
Trees are the crowning jewels of the southern suburbs. The oak canopy of Newlands Avenue, the willows along the Liesbeek Trail, and the champion trees of Ardene Gardens.
These green giants were planted decades ago; it is a beautiful legacy that we must continue. To do this, we must view trees as an investment. It is rare that one gets to enjoy the full glory of a tree’s growth to maturity in one lifetime. It really is the next generation that benefits from our prudence. Hence, the temptation is ever-present to brush off the positive impact and importance of tree planting.
The lure of living our lives for today’s gain competes with the sacrifice of investing for the future. This is true for the juxtaposition of spending money today vs saving for tomorrow. And it is true for the competing need for urban densification today vs investing in space, beauty, and cleaner air for tomorrow.
As residents, property owners, and developers we need to strike the correct balance.
The City of Cape Town boasts a tree-management policy which allows residents to request for trees to be planted in their neighbourhoods. All that is required is the completion of an application form. In addition, the City is willing to donate trees to schools and community greening projects. However, planting trees to contribute to our beautiful heritage has its complexities.
The successful investment faces two challenges – space and water. The pressing need for urban densification and the small profit margins in the Cape Town property markets incentivises developers to remove as many trees as possible and to plant shrubbery instead of turning our streets into tree-lined avenues. Including that one extra apartment offers the opportunity for more affordable prices and increased profits. Therefore, faced with the opportunities of a growing city economy and the pressures for affordable property, it is difficult to expect developers to prioritise tree planting. However, it is an investment which developers must include.
It will pay off in decades to come as the southern suburbs remains an attractive investment through its calm and serenity along-side the growing number of high-rise buildings.
The scarcity of water is the other challenge. Without a dedicated resident to water newly planted trees, our heritage of tree-lined streets and green-canopied neighbourhoods won’t continue to grow. Today residents are billed a water levy in addition to increased water tariffs and are well acquainted with the reality of climate change. Therefore, it is difficult to expect residents to take up the responsibility of planting and watering extra trees. Along with the City’s offer to plant trees at the request of residents or to donate trees to schools, the City and many local nurseries have prioritised water-wise trees for our new climate.
Water remains a vital factor for a successful investment in trees and our climate change challenges present us with the opportunity to plant different trees to experience the beauty in diversity.Previous generations have prioritised planting and preserving trees, today we are reaping the benefits of their investment. My call is for residents, schools, property owners, and developers to do the same today. Let us invest in the beautiful green legacy that we have inherited.