Do you enjoy staring out the window during your commute or while on vacation? Chances are pretty good you are gazing on land that is managed by state, county or city road departments. How they choose to manage that land directly influences what kind of experience you have on your commute. I remember as a kid growing up in Southeast Michigan staring out at the trees along the freeway and imagining what vast expanse of forest we were traveling through. The fact is that the strips of woods I was staring at were precisely that: strips, probably no more than the hundred feet or so it takes to block vision through the trees. If you enjoy the woodsy feel of the drive up 23/75 to the Mackinac Bridge, you are being taken in by the same illusion. By and large, the woods you see extend no further than the right-of-way. But that’s not a bad thing. Your enjoyment is real, and the woods serve an ecological function, humble as it may be. My point is that those trees are there only by the grace of the governing road department, who have decided to manage those areas according to the principles of Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management.
Now, if all it takes is a slender strip of land and fairly hands-off management to create that enjoyment and impart that illusion, why not bring that into the city? If you’ve driven the Southfield or the Lodge this summer, or any summer for that matter, you have probably seen the dead grass, the eroded slopes, the blowing dust, the lawnmower ruts, the stunted trees that come from trying to maintain an english lawn on a 1:4 slope in the middle of a sea of concrete and asphalt. (‘d like to provide a picture here, but I don’t want to get run over. Maybe the next traffic jam I sit in.) In fact, this is starting to happen. Check out I-75 north and south of the 696 interchange. Isn’t that nice? Typically, if the slope reaches the shoulder, they’ll mow a courtesy strip and let the upper slope naturalize. The only reason you don’t see more of it, I’m sure, is because the departments are afraid of bad reactions from the public. So give them a call or send an email and tell them what you like.