To the editors:

I found it telling that Lynn Becker [“Lofty Goals,” April 9] would remark: “Of the 86 structures added to Emporis’s list of the world’s 200 tallest buildings over the last ten years, the United States accounts for just 10.” Emphasis mine. Does this reflect on his own ego, his second justification, as well as that of the designers and builders elsewhere who “succeed” in getting big monstrosities made? When I see pictures of huge buildings such as those printed–the Sears and Petronas Towers, and Taipei 101–the first thing I think is “target/sitting duck.” A Trump Tower attacked, as were New York’s Twin Towers, and falling into the Chicago River cannot fail to create an environmental catastrophe.

But I was pleased that Trump’s new, downscaled design “faces new problems given the shake-up at Hollinger International.” I hope his project never does launch from the drawing board to the current Sun-Times site, since the city is swamped with traffic now, and there is no way to improve the flow around it.

In lauding the “crass, raw ambition that built Chicago,” can’t we channel it to more useful purposes, like packing the same details we would shower on a tall building into a “stumpier” one with room to be surrounded and overtopped by trees? If you ask, as did Becker, “As the titles fall away, does some of our vitality wither with them?” you need to reset your sights, perhaps by reading A Pattern Language, an expensive but still in-print book, after which you will realize how building on a human scale calms and civilizes us.

This rational mind knows a better payoff always includes trees in urban planning, and not just in tree pits, where they are too often doomed to fry in reflected sidewalk heat. We need the benefits of mature trees: lower electricity/air-conditioning costs, absorption of particulates before they reach our lungs, stormwater abatement, and increased property values, to name a few. We have to keep in mind that for every cubic meter of crown projection we want, we must allow a tree three-fourths’ cubic meter of space for its roots, and they can’t grow under pavement. There is far too much concrete underfoot where there should be mulch, and there are too many buildings built right up to the property line, leaving no room for tree canopies. For us to get anything from city trees, we have to give them what they need. If we have to sacrifice both our egos and the chance to build from one lot line directly up to the next, we will be bigger than Trump if we do it.

Maja Ramirez

Treekeeper #467

Chicago Master Gardener

W. Willow