BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- There's little debate that, when a tree falls near a city street, it makes a sound. But other questions are more difficult to answer: Who is affected by the falling tree and how? Who is liable for the damage? And who is responsible for deciding how to replace the tree?
A paper written by an Indiana University professor and doctoral student, and presented at two international conferences, argues that thinking of street trees as a "common-pool resource" can help lead to better management of an under-appreciated community asset.
"We hope it will impact how cities look at their trees," said Burney Fischer, clinical professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington and co-author of the paper with Brian Steed, a doctoral student in SPEA and political science. "Obviously, a lot of cities haven't yet stepped back and said, 'Why do we do this the way we do it?'"
The paper, titled "Street Trees -- A Misunderstood Common-Pool Resource," was presented this summer at meetings of the International Association for the Study of the Commons in Cheltenham, England, and the International Society of Arboriculture in St. Louis.
In Cheltenham, Fischer also presented the paper in a pre-conference session on "new commons." New commons are various types of shared resources that have recently evolved or been recognized as commons. They are commons without existing rules or clear institutional arrangement to govern their use or protection. Resource sectors identified in this widely expanding area include scientific knowledge, voluntary associations, climate change, community gardens, wikipedias, cultural treasures, plant seeds and the electronic spectrum.
Fischer and Steed argue that street trees fit the definition of a common-pool resource because they benefit many people but their use (or abuse) is difficult to control. The authors draw on a body of academic writing about common-poo
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