Nothing Is Stopping You

Not too long ago, Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution shared a link to an article about how shade has been reduced in modern American cities, possibly as the result of zoning regulations. I do not know enough about zoning or history to comment intelligently about the veracity of that article's claims, so I won't.

As a result of reading that article, however, I did take notice of how little shade there is in my local neighborhood, and in similar neighborhoods across North Texas. Even in the city parks, the most typical layout features large, expansive green grass fields surrounded by patches of trees and vegetation. It's nice being in a park like this during the winter months, when the added sun keeps you warm, but it's oppressive during the summertime. And considering how long and how hot Texas summers are, this strikes me as being a design flaw.

A better design can be seen in some of the area's older parks, such as Burnett Park in downtown Fort Worth, or some of the oldest parks in Dallas. There, grass fields are interspersed with enormous oak and cypress trees that cast shade over everything. Often, these parks are built where there is some elevation change (rare in a prairie state like Texas), so that trees on hills cast even more shade than they otherwise would.

Intelligently designed landscapes can offer a tremendous respite from the burning summer sun. With a little forethought, a space can be made into an inviting and worthwhile place to spend hours even during the hottest parts of July and August. I notice this immediately when I'm passing through older, wealthier neighborhoods in the area. Mansions are beautiful places to begin with, but even a small, modest home looks luxurious when the owners take design cues from the rich. Wealthy home owners make ample use of large, thick trees that cast shade over their entire yard. I strongly suspect a major reason mansion owners like these trees is because they are large and provide a great deal of privacy to anyone on the property; but my interest isn't in more privacy, but in more shade, and these large trees provide shade in spades.

You can spot other helpful tricks in the old parks, botanical gardens, and wealthy mansions. One is ground cover: low-lying shrubbery for use in landscape beds in lieu of traditional coverage such as mulch or gravel. Obviously gravel, being made of stone, conducts far more heat than mulch, which in turn conducts more heat than foliage. So if one wanted to create a cool and inviting yard, one would prefer mulch to gravel and foliage to mulch. It's so simple. Another important trick is to cast shade across all the windows of the home, either with awnings and pergolas, or with small, decorative trees like myrtles.

The reason I bring all this up is not to enthuse about landscaping, but to draw a contrast between the article I read and the situation in front of me. One can become very frustrated reading articles like the one mentioned above, but at the end of the day, how likely is it that we'll ever be able to make a widespread impact on the city's zoning laws? Perhaps a vote, petition, or city council meeting here and there is an important civic duty, but that's not a very efficient use of your time.

What's a more efficient use of your time? If you want more shade, plant more trees. Make some changes to your yard, and enjoy the benefits of your work almost immediately. Surround yourself and your home with pleasant things that make your life tangibly better. There might be some screwed up laws and regulations out there, but generally speaking there's nothing stopping you from making your own home a marginally better place. So do it.

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