In commemoration of the 4 year anniversary of this blog, Green Infrastructure for Your Community, I sat down with Ms. Leda Marritz, the woman behind it all, to reflect on the last 4 years of the blog, the topics she finds most compelling, and some of her own story, inspirations, and aspirations, both inside and beyond DeepRoot. -Niki
In the first post on the blog, you describe it as a space “to talk about issues related to tree growth, storm water management, and soil biology, with a special emphasis on the built environment. We hope to create a forum where landscape architects, architects, engineers and more can participate in a wide range of discussions about tree and stormwater related policy, news, and ideas.”
How has this changed in the last 4 years? Are there any changes in the making that you can tell us about?
I’m actually pleasantly surprised that that description remains fairly accurate for what the blog is today! When I first started it, I didn’t have a clear idea of what it would be, but I knew that we had ideas and experiences and expertise that I wanted to share using the platform of a blog. I now have a much greater awareness of news that you can find elsewhere, and what sort of stories and expertise we have that is a bit more unusual, that you couldn’t find on other sites, for example, the History of Street Trees series.
Could you say more about this History of Street Trees series?
The History of Street Trees is a series that Peter MacDonagh, one of our partners, has been doing for the last year. I think the most recent one he did, which is about the History of Street Trees in the British Isles, is really his best yet. It’s this incredible mix of social, cultural, and religious history, with a dash of construction, and geography. It’s fascinating reading about the ways in which these changes in the world –whether its wars, or the invention of cannons, or the rise of a religious order or the fall of a religious order – have influenced how trees are dealt with in a city.
What were your motivations in starting the blog? Why do you think a forum like this is important for this industry, for the built environment?
I had a sense that the topics we were talking about in our day-to-day work could be interesting to a wider variety of people than those we interacted with through our business alone. When it started, other than a posting schedule of Monday-Wednesday-Friday and a general sense of themes, I had not finely honed what I wanted to cover. If you look back on some of the early entries, you’ll probably notice that they are not as focused, they lack a certain direction. Over the months, I started to get my bearings and see what was interesting not only to our readers, but also internally. In addition to writing for a wider audience, the blog has also functioned as a really valuable education platform within our own company.
What have been some of your favorite topics to write about on the blog and why?
Compelling stories, regardless of what they’re about, are interesting to immerse yourself in. A lot of what I write about ends up being at a very fine level of detail, which I like because the details are always the building blocks of what we’re trying to do on a large scale. I enjoy understanding how things work. Big, grander stories are exciting in a different way, because you’re taking this little-viewed lens of the world, or of the city –you don’t often hear about the city through its plants or its trees – and seeing how that applies to the human experience of the place. That will always be interesting to me.
What are some of your methodologies for this unique form of investigative journalism that takes the plant and the trees perspective in the story?
As all my colleagues will tell you, I’m constantly on the lookout for things that could make for good blog content! Often, common misconceptions make for interesting entries – a recent post that comes to mind is one by Nathalie Shanstrom on what is soil structure, and why does it matter. It sounds sort of like a dry topic – but for people who are getting really deep into these design issues, it’s important to have a good understanding of this stuff. Often we’re asking simple questions that are difficult to answer in a succinct way in spoken conversation. By using a blog article you can use illustrations and really walk someone through a topic.
How did you first become involved at DeepRoot, and what is your professional and educational background?
My educational background is in literature – it’s not related to trees at all. After graduating, I moved to New York City and got a job in publishing. I stayed there for two years before moving to San Francisco. When I arrived, I needed a job! I started searching the alumni network for the college I went to and contacting people who were doing interesting things. I wrote to about half a dozen people, one of whom was Graham (now CEO of DeepRoot). All I knew about DeepRoot was what I could learn from their website. We met up for coffee (well, I got tea) and we just talked for maybe half an hour. I had experience in marketing and DeepRoot happened to need help in that area. I was hired conditionally for a three month period for the very specific project of updating our product brochures. And in a short time it became clear that we were a good fit, and that DeepRoot could use my help in other areas. And the rest is history.
You’ve written a number of articles that critique various major city’s ambitious environmental programs that fail to mention soil volume or tree care and maintenance in their proposals (such as Better Market Street, and NYC’s 1 million trees) – could you say more about what lead you to write these, and what their impact has been?
Once you come to know a fair amount about a particular topic like urban trees – you become attuned to seeing that topic, or the lack of it, everywhere. Lots of cities are coming out with “green” plans for involve trees, but few of them take what we feel is a long-term approach to their success – and by that I mean one that meaningfully addresses how we are planting them and how much soil we provide. Eventually it became impossible to read these city plans and not see a gaping hole in this approach. We know enough at this point to be able to state that trees need soil, and plans that purport to be good long term road maps for increasing urban tree canopy that don’t address providing them with soil – I feel confident saying that they are not going to be able to deliver on their promises. We want to use the knowledge that we have about urban trees to make these plans better. Sometimes that means pointing out the areas where they can be improved and hoping we can work together to make changes.
I understand your father is a cinematographer and photographer, and you’ve showcased some of his work photographing trees and Silva Cell installation sites on the blog. How has his work influenced yours? What are some of your favorite photos of his that are on the blog?
I would say that my dad is the best photographer I know, period. It’s a pleasure to be able to work together. He’s also someone who loves nature very deeply, and has lived in New York City for the last 40 years, so he’s very well suited to understand the challenges that city dwellers face, in regards to cities, and also to see the incredible impact that nature can have on that environment. Both my parents are artists. I don’t think they would have cared if I didn’t grow up to be a creative person, but creativity was definitely one of those unspoken family values growing up – doing things creatively, using your imagination, seeing a way to do things differently – that was a big part of my home environment. So I like to think that it’s influenced some of the things I’ve tried to cultivate in my professional life as well.
I understand that you also write for a few publications outside of DeepRoot, sometimes dealing with topics related to urban forestry and the built environment, but also topics related to animal welfare and companion animals. Do you see any relation between these areas? And could you comment on your love for animals?
There is something to me about trying to create a kinder, gentler world that does really speak to me in both of those cases. Our existence is influenced by so many things. And all of them are important – money is important, work is important, family is important. And environment is one of the essential attributes that suffuses all of those areas.
I think being an advocate for urban trees allows me to access my own feelings of vulnerability, and the awareness of the fundamental uncertainty of the world. In some ways it’s a way for me to feel like I have some influence or control over something that in a larger scale is very much outside of my control. I feel very glad to have work that is personally meaningful to me.
Many of the thinkers/writers who I know you admire are women working at the intersections of strategic communication, diplomacy, sociology, and negotiation. What draws you to them and to these ideas?
That’s true. I think tend to admire people who have made me question my own assumptions or expectations for myself and for the world. I think change is really hard, but I’m also a huge believer in the ability of people to change, if that’s something they really want to do. That’s a common thread through all of the thinkers and through their writing. And I certainly don’t agree with everything they say, but I have a deep appreciation for how they present an alternate way of thinking about things.
Some of the ones that stand out to me most are Pema Chödrön – my Dad was the one who introduced me to her and would always say that you could take any of her books and open to any page and find something useful and profound. Anne Lamott is also amazing, Bird by Bird remains one of my favorite books. Harriet Lerner , who is a marriage and family therapist, is incredible at Twitter, I just have to say. Which I admire because I’m terrible at Twitter, 140 characters is just not enough.
Speaking of Twitter – I understand you were responsible for “bringing DeepRoot into the digital age” – could you say more about this? What were some of the biggest challenges and how did you deal with them? Why do you think it’s important for businesses in our industry to be up-to-speed with current practices and trends in marketing and online communication?
DeepRoot, to their credit, has actually had a website for a very long time, since 1996, which actually makes them early adopters. It is an important part of my job to stay up to date with how people are educating themselves and searching for information. So, some of the challenges have been explaining why we as a company should be investing in some of these changes – why should spend so much time and energy into making our website responsive, creating videos for YouTube, or having a blog, or Tweeting? My answer to that is that we need to be where people are looking – on their cell phones, on Google, on social media.
What is coming up for the blog – or what would you want to do if you had more time?
I’m very interested in expanding the way we communicate our stories and content – specifically, I’d love to try a podcast. This is a format I’ve started to explore in a personal project of mine, and it’s hugely fun and interesting. There is so much information contained in a person’s voice and tone; you can tell a story or explain an idea in completely different ways. I also find that when you switch formats, you tend to get different sorts of ideas and inspiration. It’s a good way to keep on your toes and rethink what makes for meaningful content.