TreeAct: An exercise in citizen participation

Tom Suhler is a native Texan: born in Houston, raised in San Antonio, transplanted to Austin more than 35 years ago. He’s been a real estate broker, software developer, business consultant and artist. He designed and built his former home, where he grew his businesses and raised some cattle.

All those past lives left Suhler with a deep respect for the land and a well-earned skepticism that any one political faction has the perfect answer.

In 2008 he documented the destruction of one of Texas’ urban forests in a short film titled, “At What Cost.” His conclusion? A community’s fate turns on the choices of its citizens. The more people who understand what those choices cost, the better equipped they are to make good ones.

This TreeAct website grew from a commitment to that sense of community wisdom. “As appealing as it is to think we can do what we like with our property, the fact is that being part of a community requires compromise,” Suhler says. “ Growing a neighborhood organically – over time – helps us design the environment we want to be part of. I’m bothered by the thought that the diverse civic cultures built by independent Texans are under attack from the state government devised to serve them.”

Suhler and some like-minded cohorts have built this forum as a platform for citizen engagement – a way to engage our government in an ongoing conversation about how we find the “better angels” of our republic.