"That's a lot of wood," mused Ben Caldwell of the 400 trees on the chopping block along the Space Shuttle Endeavour's route to the Science Center.
I could almost see the wheels turning in his brain.
Founder of the Kaos Network in Leimert Park, life-long artist, and community activist, Caldwell had moved past the gloom-and-doom lamentations over the loss of the trees and had begun thinking about the opportunities that the moment presented.
Amazingly, there hadn't been much in the way of planning with regard to what would happen to the wood, he told me. Apparently, the only plan in place is to turn it into compost.
What if it could be salvaged, he wanted to know.
Finding alternative uses for the wood would help to diminish the pain of the loss of the trees while providing the community with valuable materials that could be used to enhance their already vibrant celebrations. Tree trunks could be made into drums. Eucalyptus trees could be made into didgeridoos. Pine and other white wood trees could become cajones. Caldwell pointed to some of the paintings on the walls around his studio. What about creating other art materials out of the wood?
It could even be turned into mulch for gardens and to be placed around new trees, he suggested. Letting the wood go to waste would just add insult to injury.
And the new trees that would be planted? He had ideas for those, too.
What if half of them were fruit trees? Why shouldn't they provide some sustenance for the community?
The idea had come to him through the memory of his time in school in Arizona. He had been tempted to pluck an orange from the plethora of trees that lined the streets around the school. He got a rude shock when he bit into it, however. He says that the administration told him that the trees had been engineered to produce inedible fruit so as not to attract the homeless or scavengers.
"I was stunned," he said.
Wanting something different for Leimert Park, Caldwell began researching fruit and other trees that might complement the area.
"I know people will worry about things like bugs" and have other concerns, he said, but the educational and economic opportunities that such a move would represent could outweigh the drawbacks.
Using the new trees as a living laboratory, he suggested, "we could teach kids about the importance of growing food organically."
Depending on the kinds of trees planted, he continued, the community might even be able to generate a product from the fruit that could bring jobs to the area.
Listening to him talk, I wondered why on earth the Science Center had invested so little in reaching out to communities that would be affected by the Shuttle's passage. Why think that science could only happen within the center's confines? Why not have seen the whole process as a teachable moment and opportunity for engagement?
Thanks to the intense advocacy from the affected areas, the Science Center has now set aside $100,000 for an educational fund to benefit those communities. No decisions have been made with regard to how it will be used, as yet. Meaning, the door is wide open for any and all ideas.
Are you an artist? A master gardener? An educator? Do you have ideas about how to use the cut trees? Want to be part of the conversation about what comes next or help with the process? Leave your ideas below or send them to me at sahra(at)streetsblog.org. I will pass them on to Ben Caldwell or other community organizations involved in shaping what is to come.
Sahra is Communities Editor for Streetsblog L.A., covering the intersection of mobility with race, class, history, representation, policing, housing, health, culture, community, and access to the public space in Boyle Heights and South Central Los Angeles.