As I start to conceptualize the form that my data analysis will take, I have latched onto the idea of landscape as narrative. To that end, I have begun to compile a timeline for Portland that weaves together the stories told by several different pieces of data. For example, I have begun to research the Burrell Elm, Portland’s first Heritage tree. The Elm was planted around 1875 by Martin and Rosetta Burrell—the latter of whom would go on to be an active participant in Portland’s social history, helping to found the Portland Women’s Union. By 1973, the Burrell Land had been entirely repurposed for denser city development, with no original structures remaining—today it is the site of the Portland Art Museum. The Elm, however, remained, and was set aside as a city landmark in 1975. This was long before the Portland City Council would adopt a Heritage Tree Code in 1993.
The story of the Burrell Elm ties together many aspects of Portland’s development—initial large landowners, social activism, high-density infill, tree preservation, and the construction of trees as symbolic landmarks. By placing this narrative within the context of other significant narratives in Portland’s development (narratives such as the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition, the creation of Washington Park, and the establishment of the Portland Development Commission), I hope to paint a fuller picture of the role that the urban forest has played in Portland’s development. Once I have done this, I will be able to compare it to other cities in order to generalize about the role of trees in development.