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San Diego Living

Why is there No Shade?

I live on a block with virtually no shade on the street. There are 22 houses and only 3 have a shade tree in the front yard.

Adam’s block and its lack of shade trees.

This time of year the lack of shade is really unnoticeable. And for people who drive everywhere in their air conditioned cars, the lack of shade in Rolando probably isn’t a big deal. But we in the McLane household like to walk. We walk Jackson to school, we walk our dogs, we walk to Rite Aid and the park and restaurants on El Cajon Boulevard. And let me tell you… the lack of shade is problematic.

It makes walking less pleasant. And it makes our neighborhood hotter than it needs to be as unshaded pavement is exposed to the sun, radiating heat up while the sun beats down from above.

No Shade By Design

The infuriating thing I’ve learned is that the lack of shade in Rolando was done on purpose.

In the 1930s, when most of California’s cities were still forming, there was a mortgage crisis in which President Roosevelt intervened. This discriminatory practice greatly impacted city planning and building codes… it was part of why parts of Rolando have shade and other parts don’t.

“the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC). Established by Congress in 1933, the initiative was promoted by President Franklin Roosevelt to help stem the urban foreclosure crisis that had spiked during the Great Depression.

Over the next three years, the federal agency refinanced more than a million homes. It issued low-interest, long-term loans to scores of new homeowners across the nation, spurring a dramatic uptick in home-ownership over the proceeding decades.

But only for some.

To show which areas were safe investments,  HOLC gathered reams of local data to draw up “residential safety maps” of cities across the nation. Neighborhoods were classified into one of four categories based on “favorable” and “detrimental” influences. Factors included terrain and type and age of buildings,  as well as the “threat of infiltration of foreign-born, negro, or lower grade population.”

“A” areas, in green, were  considered “hot spots,” where good mortgage lenders … are willing to make their maximum loans.” “B” areas,  in blue, were deemed not as desirable, but “still good.” “C” areas, in yellow, were considered in decline. And finally, “D” areas, in red, were considered to be in full decline, areas lenders should steer clear of.

Not surprisingly, HOLC’s  classification method was heavily influenced by a neighborhood’s racial and economic demographics.

How Government Redlining Maps Pushed Segregation in California Cities, April 27 2016

Here’s the redlining map for San Diego.

And here’s my neighborhood specifically… note that half of the neighbored was built at the time, labeled in blue, while the part I live in was labeled as “sparsely settled” since our block wasn’t built until 1953-1954.

My part of Rolando wasn’t included in 1933 redlining because at the time it was still undeveloped. But the blue parts of Rolando were blue, “Second Grade” housing.

What does this have to do with shade?

Nicer areas were designed with larger lots, wider parkways and sidewalks, perfect for big shade trees. This was codified in the zoning. Areas like mine didn’t require that so when our part of the neighborhood was developed, the Don Terrace as it’s formally known, they were allowed to squeeze more lots in by not including sidewalks and parkways… a problem that persists to this day. Sidewalks end at my property line. My nextdoor neighbor has a big shade tree over his sidewalk and I have none.

This is common all over Southern California.

Today, in Los Angeles, shade is distributed to people who can afford it. If you go into neighborhoods that were designed to be wealthy residential enclaves, the sidewalks are wider and include strips of grass four to ten feet wide, for the easy planting of thick, leafy trees.

Shade” Episode 385 of the 99% Invisible podcast

Areas that were designed for richer… cough… whiter and specifically non-Jewish residents… those areas got more room for shade. Areas that weren’t? If you want a shade tree you need to put it in your tiny yard.

Stupid Palm Trees

Workers plant palm trees on Wilshire Boulevard between Western and Wilton in 1926. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. Source

And then the palm trees came in. Palm trees, ubiquitous with Southern California, are largely imported from other parts of the world to form the iconic look.

So even if people do have sidewalks and parkways intended for a nice shade trees to make walking more pleasant… lots of people grow these invasive pieces of junk that cost you a ton of water but deliver almost no shade.

I have seven queen palms on my small lot and I hate each of them uniquely.

So What’s the Answer?

This is the Desert Museum Palo Verde, a native tree we plan to replace our non-native palms with.

The answer is pretty simple: Plant shade trees. Native ones preferably.

Yes, lots of areas of San Diego and other Southern California have communities like Rolando where– for reasons of injustice– the lots are small, there are no sidewalks, and the streets themselves bear the scars of sins of yesteryear.

But we can reverse the impact today. There are native shade trees that we can plant in our tiny yards that’ll have a big impact in 5-10 years. They’ll make our area more walkable and they’ll actually lower the temperature on hot days.

We’re beginning the process of getting rid of all the palm trees and replacing them with trees with more shade. And I hope others do the same.

Because it’s hot out there. And some people say it’s going to keep getting hotter.

Live in San Diego and have a parkway? The city will give you a free tree. No, for real. Here’s the link.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

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