Friday, March 26, 2010

New Trees Under Attack?

A week or so ago, I lauded the Crow Hill Community Association for their successful campaign to bring more trees to Franklin Avenue. Street trees make a huge impact on communities, in ways both obvious and subtle, and it's worth recounting them here:

1. Traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian): Street trees make an enormous contribution to safer, more lively streets. They narrow sight lines and slow traffic down (reducing accidents and close calls), while simultaneous acting as a buffer between cars and pedestrians (as well as a buffer for traffic noise). Slower traffic and a sense of separation from it, along with the obvious benefits of shade and beauty, encourages pedestrian traffic, which in turn boosts local merchant revenues and makes streets safer (peopled streets are safe streets).

2. Quality of life: The NYC Parks Department did the math a few years ago and concluded that for every dollar they spend on street trees, New Yorkers derive $5.60 worth of benefits. Along with reducing noise, providing shade, and beautifying a street, trees moderate weather, blocking wind and rain and acting as enormous air conditioners in the summer (the USDA equates the daily cooling impact of one healthy young tree with 10 room-sized AC units going full blast for 20 hours). Trees also improve air quality (no surprise there), attract songbirds, and have even been shown to reduce stress with their mere presence.

3. Economic and environmental benefit (because at this point, we should realize that the two walk hand in hand). I already mentioned the value of increased street traffic to local businesses. Trees also significantly reduce energy use & heating and cooling costs and increase both residential and commercial property values (are trees gentrifiers? We'll return to this in a moment). They also absorb and process stormwater without dumping it into NYC combined sewers, which saves the city real money in processing costs and overflow fines from the EPA and keeps those enormous puddles from forming at every intersection.

Ultimately, the benefits of trees aren't that surprising, and their correlation with NYC's nicer neighborhoods is fairly obvious. Just walk west on any of the side streets or places that cross Franklin, and watch how verdant things get as you approach Flatbush. To my mind, street trees are as close as you can get to an unqualified good thing, which why I was horrified to receive the following email from a local resident, who signed his email "Bummed on Sterling":

There is a mentally unstable guy walking around breaking branches off of the young street trees. I caught him in the act on my tree, but it was too late for the rest of my block (sterling btw bedford and franklin) Really really sad, as i've waited 2 years to get the tree. Anyway, i alerted the cops. But if people want to keep a lookout for this guy who is destroying the trees.

Now, this sounds like a fairly isolated incident, albeit a rather devastating one (something tells me NYC Parks aren't necessarily going to come out and replace destroyed trees unless they feel the trees will survive). However, it reminded me of a story a longtime resident told me last summer about earlier attempts at economic revitalization on the Avenue. As they recalled, a whole slew of trees were planted one day, only to be felled by a furious resident with power tools who declared "we don't need their trees on Franklin." Trees, like anything else that ups property values, are forces of gentrification in their own way, and there are apparently a few rare individuals who find them problematic as such. (Granted, it sounds like we're talking about two rather disturbed individuals here, but the sentiment remains genuine, even if its expression is pretty far out in the deep end.)

I don't really know how to wrap this up, except to say to anyone who might be inclined, PLEASE DON'T DESTROY THE NEW TREES!


  1. that makes me really sad. if the contractors that planted the trees can show that they've been physically damaged in their first year of being in the ground they don't have to replace them, which means that we have to wait for another tree from the city or live with a dead or dying one.

    also, killing a city tree is a crime! it's called arboricide. and that's a fact!

  2. I implore folks living on the block to call 311 to request replacement trees! Badger the city to let them know we want trees!

  3. Full thread about this on Brooklynian. Call 311.