Right in your own Back Yard

It was Fall, 2007 and the Beagle was taking me on a sniff and lift walk in the park. How 23 pounds of dog can have that much bladder inside him is a miracle. So we were strolling, leaving messages here and there, when I saw that new bleachers had been installed by the ball diamonds. Brand new shiny aluminum bleachers and a sign nearby proclaiming that this was the result of a 2002 Parks Levy.

Well, you can’t say enough good things about the alacrity of a Parks Division that moves at that kind of installation speed. But I did wonder, given that this was Portland, in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, why the bleachers weren’t made of wood. What time of year can you sit on aluminum? Not winter, as aluminum’s coefficient of heat is well known. It’ll chill you to the bone in winter. It just feels too cold and too wet. In the summertime, the bleachers will be burning hot. You won’t be able to sit on them at all then. So I wondered who thought that aluminum was a good idea for bleachers? Didn’t they have wooden bleachers here for decades? Didn’t they sit well and last a long time?

It also happened that day that I came across a large group of bureaucrats wandering about the park looking up at the trees. This struck me as a useful activity for bureaucrats given their wont for other enterprises like taking trips to see if Hawaii is still there or visiting exotic hotels to meet with their nieces. There was also a lone worker nearby with some ropes and a chainsaw working on a tree. Curious about this whole scenario, I went up to the city worker and asked him what would happen to the wood that he was taking down? What happened to the trees taken down in city parks?
“Oh,” he said, “we take em and stack em up.”
“You don’t use them?” I asked. “You could make bleachers out of them.”
“Yeah I know. Nope, they’re afraid someone will get hurt cutting them up. They just sit in the yard.”
Then I asked pointing to the group of 25 or so milling about under the trees, “Who are those folks?” He told me that it was Urban Forestry Council.

Well I couldn’t help myself. I walked up to the group and introduced myself breathless with anticipation. Here would be a group who would clearly see that a valuable resource, an opportunity for recycling on a small but perfect scale, was being lost. There were many people capable, even anxious, to cut this lumber up for just a few sticks of the same wood as payment. I asked them why they weren’t using the trees that came out of their parks to build new wooden bleachers instead of the stunning aluminum ones.

Most of the group looked at me as if they thought I had starting drinking a little too early in the day. The others merely interpreted my speech as something said in a Martian tongue and turned away. The one man who did speak to me said that they were concerned about running into nails and things, liability issues in other words. In the end, the group just looked at this lunatic and shook their collective heads.

Now this is the Pacific Northwest, where trees grow at a prodigious rate and every year, dozens of trees come down in storms or are cut down in the parks. Oaks, maples, walnuts, firs, hemlocks. A seemingly unending supply of bleacher material right in our back yard and the City that Works goes out and buys aluminum bleachers.

I’m a woodworker of course and so seeing a resource wasted like this appalls me. It bothers me every time I see a tree cut down and taken to the dump. It’s a stupendous waste of years of growth and a waste of the potential hidden inside every tree. But lawsuits loom say the office holders. Well I think we should have the bureaucrats do a cost analysis of what shortsightedness costs. How much does it cost us when we throw away resources in our own back yard to avoid the risks of litigation? How much do we pay for not doing something right and something smart? Call me crazy but if a city really wanted to work, it would let fewer bureaucrats buy aluminum bleachers and put more workers to work right here building the things we need.

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Published in: on March 17, 2008 at 8:28 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. Yeah, bleachers or not, it sounds like a business opportunity for some enterprising Portlander. Down here in Eugene/Springfield, a guy has been selling lumber mostly salvaged from city property and people’s yards and elsewhere (www.urbanlumbercompany.com) — windfall, trees cut to make way for an extra bedroom on someone’s house, trees the city deems “unsafe,” whatever. Some interesting wood, too. Maple, oak and walnut, of course, but they’ve also come across rarer stuff like butternut and elm. Enjoying the blog, Gary.
    — Bob


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