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Julius Chambers and the county courthouse

There’s little doubt that eventually, a building in Mecklenburg County will bear the name of Julius Chambers. The soft-spoken attorney helped bring equality in education and employment to the town where he spent much of his adult life.

But how best to honor him? Some think Congress should put his name on Charlotte’s new federal courthouse, because Chambers argued his most substantial discrimination cases in federal court. Some think his name should grace a Mecklenburg County school, because among Chambers’ eight U.S. Supreme Court victories was a lawsuit that integrated Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners chairwoman Pat Cotham has a different, somewhat controversial, idea. Cotham wants the Mecklenburg County Courthouse named after Chambers, despite a 2009 policy that stipulates the building’s name be unchanged “in perpetuity.”

Cotham says she has the support of lawyers and judges across North Carolina, along with the backing of Chambers’ family. Others, including commissioner Dumont Clarke and Charlotte attorney David Erdman, would prefer to honor the civil rights legend in a different way.

Erdman, who chairs the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, argues that for almost 250 years, the Mecklenburg County Courthouse has been called just that. Also of note: No other county courthouse in North Carolina is dedicated to an individual.

But at its core, Chambers’ legacy is about moving past how things have always been done. If putting his name on a county courthouse breaks new ground, well, that doesn’t seem inappropriate at all.

Restoring our tree canopy

“The creation of a thousand forests,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “is in one acorn.”

In Charlotte, that acorn goes by the name of TreesCharlotte Foundation. Still a sapling of an organization, its leaders believe it can be the seed that protects the city’s treasured but threatened tree canopy.

Charlotte has the best urban forest in the South and one of the nation’s 10 best, American Forests says. But it’s shrinking: From 1985 to 2008, the city lost nearly half its canopy. It now stands at 46 percent.

The City Council in 2011 adopted a goal of a 50 percent tree canopy by 2050. A hike of 4 percentage points might sound modest, but growth, development, disease and natural events conspire to reduce tree cover, so adding any is a challenge. Each 1 percent represents 100,000 trees.

TreesCharlotte Foundation aspires to plant 15,000 trees a year. That, its leaders say, would combine with city planting to achieve the 50 percent goal.

It’s an ambitious number – the foundation planted about 4,000 in its first year, 2012-13. It hopes to plant 10,000 this year, mostly in the planting season that starts in about two weeks and runs into April.

TreesCharlotte needs money, volunteers and neighborhoods for tree planting. The city plants on public land, but private land has the greatest potential for restoring the city’s tree canopy. Trees improve the environment, beautify the city and raise property values. To help, contact TreesCharlotte Director Dave Cable at 704-577-2004 or dave@treescharlotte.org.

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