Thursday, March 13, 2003

Natural dilemma


Chain saws to hum in Hyde Park

map

Maybe I wasn't exactly prepared to chain myself to a tree, but I was sincerely honked off. And maybe they weren't giant redwoods, but they were not saplings either.

I'd heard that the city plans to cut down 15 trees at the curbs along Hyde Park Square. As one whose dog has taken a significant interest in every single one of those 15 trees, I share his concern. Plus they provide shade. Plus they look handsome. Plus they are irreplaceable.

I know how long it takes for a skinny little stick to start behaving like a real tree. Mature trees absorb noise, offer shade, reduce pollution, cool the air and decrease erosion. These are gifts the tree and those of us who plant them offer up to our children's children.

Measure of civility

Our trees on the square are about 20 years old and just beginning to shade the second stories of buildings that are home to shops selling clothing, real estate, ice cream and coffee. People from all over the city come here to dine al fresco. (Italian for smack in the middle of runners and dog walkers.)

And, as Thoreau said, the number of trees in a town is a measure of its civility. It's a civil neighborhood. Even Carl Uebelacker, who helped plant the trees and is campaigning against the plan, is careful to say "it has some good ideas and the square could use sprucing up."

The sprucing includes curbs, lights and sidewalks, designed to be safer for pedestrians. This means jack hammers, trucks, concrete, electrical apparatus.

"The first question we asked ourselves is how to keep the trees from dying," says Michael Moore, the city's architect in charge. And the answer from the Urban Forestry staff, the landscape architect, the Parks Planning and Design landscape architect was: You can't.

Dainty construction

The trees, already stressed by last year's drought, will be particularly vulnerable. "You can make the construction people work more carefully," Uebelacker told me. I try to picture a guy in a hard hat with a whisk broom and tweezers.

"Nobody," says Jane Saunders, proprietor of Cloud 9 and president of Hyde Park Square Business Association, "but nobody wanted those trees to go. In fact, we wanted more trees."

The city will plant Japanese Pagoda trees in new locations, and the Bradfords will be replaced by Cleveland Select pear trees. All the trees will get better, state-of the-horticultural-art wells and drainage for their roots.

Bradfords, popular city trees during the mid-'80s, grow just fine. But, according to Moore, when they get older, the spreading branches, supported by narrow crotch angles are not strong enough to support the tree under the weight of high winds, ice or snow. "And we realized that we have a chance to put something in place that will last longer."

The "tree situation," says Saunders, was a troubling element of an otherwise "wonderful project, needed to compete with our friends at Rookwood." She is working to make sure that this historic marketplace won't wind up with leafy branches and nobody under them. The chain saws will be humming soon. It has to be done, the experts insist. The new trees will last longer, be there for our children's children.

But I will miss the old ones.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.




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