Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Between 2005 and 2015, new development projects in Las Vegas were supposed to bring 13,500 new trees to Valley streets and landscapes based on city requirements. But only about 6,075 trees were actually planted.
That’s because the Las Vegas City Council and the Las Vegas Planning Commission together waived about 55% of the required trees, typically at the request of developers, said Tom Perrigo, chief sustainability officer for the city.
In some cases, the tree waivers might have been justified or appropriate. In other cases, the city could have probably asked for more landscaping from developers, Perrigo said.
“I’m not blaming council, I’m not blaming development. It’s just sort of how we do things,” Perrigo said at an event in October on planning for climate change.
But Las Vegas is beginning to rethink past practices when it comes to trees, recognizing them as valuable assets for quality of life and as cooling and shading agents. That new thinking will likely be reflected in the city’s upcoming 2050 Master Plan, said city planner Marco Velotta.
Some of the changes to trees and landscaping are already happening, such as the growing emphasis on planting water-smart, low-maintenance and desert-adapted varieties. The city also has become more thoughtful when it comes to tree requirements since the release of the statistics on tree waivers.
“The council and planning commission have been holding to the standard a lot more closely,” Perrigo said.
But there is still a long way to go. The city has set a goal to expand its tree canopy, which currently accounts for about 12% to 14% of the jurisdiction’s total area, to 20% by 2035.
“We do know our canopy coverage citywide is particularly low ... lower than where we want it to be and as a basis of comparison for what we should be in the desert Southwest,” Velotta continued.
City officials also expect the master plan will address ways to improve tree coverage in older neighborhoods that have historically seen disinvestment. Significant disparities exist between those neighborhoods and newer, master-planned communities such as Summerlin, which have devoted many resources to trees, Velotta noted.
“We know that in particular in East Las Vegas and some of the older, inner-ring suburbs outside of Downtown, we definitely have a lot of opportunities to do more,” he said.
In the past, the city would sometimes remove trees that were overgrown or hazardous, often without replacing them, Perrigo said. Further, at the request of Metro Police, the city cut down swaths of trees in the Historic Westside as a supposed way to reduce crime.
Now, the city recognizes that having trees can actually help reduce crime and build community in neighborhoods such as the Westside, Perrigo said.
“If you have a nice shaded environment, you have more people on the street and less crime,” Perrigo said. “We’re getting a lot more sophisticated and committed to having a healthy urban forest because of all the benefits,” he added.
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.