I have been extremely fortunate over the past two years, in part because of my small cluster of friends and in part because of the unusually cool weather. It seems as though this summer will be less blisteringly hot than usual, too, knock on wood. Why?
Part of it is just the weather. There's no getting around that. But part of it is the return of trees to our neighborhood.
A couple of years ago, I noticed that there was more construction than usual. This construction resulted in a few trees being cut down to make room for materials and equipment. I think the trees were fully replaced, but they'll take time to grow regardless. Now that they're at least somewhat returning, the ground (and asphalt) is shaded more and the cooler shaded groundcover has expanded.
We also had to remove an ancient oak around that time, maybe a little before. It had rotted extensively at the base of the trunk, and it was tall enough to take out the power lines (I'll have to rant about above-ground lines later), any cars driving nearby or parked on the street like fucking barbarians, or even a corner of our house. The removal process was fast, though the company we hired to do it spilled a fair bit of some chemical or another on our grass and it took years for anything to grow again. I limed the yard a week ago, right on time before a week's worth of rain, and everything seems back to normal, minus one beautiful oak.
Our neighbors across the street, however, had another oak right in the corner under the branches of our own oak. It seems to have rocketed up over the past years to almost twice its previous height!
All this shade is doing wonderful things for our neighborhood, and for our electric bill. So what gives with today's high-density, single-family cookie-cutter developments? Why is there so much less shade? Presumably because developers focus on visibility and density. So many developments use one to four different home designs, all sitting on identical plots, that one would have trouble walking home from a bar (if any were in walking distance, which in America should not be taken for granted) and picking the right house!
Perhaps this is the failing of McMansionism, or perhaps it's the failing of a too-liberal, too-capitalistic view of real estate. I'm guilty of this myself, living with a rye and tall fescue lawn that needs pH treatment and periodic reseeding. Were I fully committed to my own ideals, I would say fuck the rest of the neighborhood and plant only native species, as densely as possible.
Take a moment to visit a local botanical garden, especially if it has a native section. Learn what should grow near you, and plant it. Your water bill, and your electric bill, will thank you in the summer.
Above all, resist HOAs not for what they are or are not doing now, but for their potential to stifle responsible growth the moment the wrong leadership is elected. False community leadership is not the path forward.
Peer pressure is. Take the plunge, then convince your neighbors to follow. Use what you think will work: the energy savings for an environmentalist or the cost-conscious, the exclusivity and novelty for the nouveau-riche, the low maintenance for the many who do their own yard work. By evangelizing to the entire neighborhood, the positive results will accumulate beyond the sum of their parts.