Everyone loves trees on Arbor Day. But, what happens the day after Arbor Day? This year, on the literal Day After, Saturday, April 30, 2016, a group of Schenectady residents who appreciate the ways our urban forest can enhance the quality of our lives, came together at Arthur’s Market in the Stockade for the inaugural meeting of Save Our Schenectady Trees [S.O.S. Trees]. This posting contains many of the materials presented at that Meeting, provides analysis, shares a few pictures from the event, and asks what we should be doing all the Other Days After Arbor Day to help achieve a Street Tree Preservation Policy for Schenectady.
Here are images from the April 30th SOS Trees Meeting. The photo-collage shows most of the adult attendees, as well as the two major exhibits. (click on it for a larger version):
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The three primary topics at the Meeting were:
- the Need for a Tree Preservation Policy in Schenectady, as shown by:
- the City Engineer’s stated preference for the “N. Ferry St. process” of sidewalk repair, which resulted in the removal of every large street tree on the block in 2008, rather than the process used on Washington Ave. in 2014, which left the trees [click on image to right for a comparison of the results]
- the many Benefits of our Urban Forest that will be lost through street tree deforestation
- the omission from the City’s Tree Master Plan of the preservation concept, despite Schenectady’s status as a Tree City.
- a real-life Show & Tell performed right outside the door of Arthur’s Market, as we stood in the shadeless noon sunlight and looked south up the once-shady N. Ferry St.
- the Special Value of Large Trees: Size Matters. Replacing large trees with small ones is a waste of a precious resource and a poor investment, which cannot be reversed.
- Alternatives to Tree Removal that are proven effective and efficient, and often less-expensive when repairing or replacing sidewalks.
WE MUST PRESERVE THE MANY BENEFITS OF OUR URBAN TREES
Click each of the above images to see or print both sides of a handout outlining the major benefits derived from urban trees (“from Tree Guidelines for San Joaquin Valley Communities”, Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education,1999; “SJV Tree Guidelines Report”). Avoidable streetside “deforestation” decimates those benefits, and cannot be justified by a general fear of liability or the convenience of property owners.
For additional discussion of the Benefits of Urban Trees, see our posting “why worry about our large street trees?“. Also, the 17-page presentation on the Grand Pass [Oregon] website, “Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas” contains information and statistics, with charts, on topics such as the effects of trees on real estate values, traffic safety, asphalt savings, and (as excerpted in a 6-page pdf. file) on commercial businesses and consumer activity, sociological factors, and the adjacent homeowner. The Oregon study views trees as an important element of a city’s infrastructure, as major capital assets that must be cared for and maintained like any other valuable municipal property.
See “Schenectady needs a Tree Preservation Policy” for additional background and analysis, including Schenectady’s failure to include preservation in its Tree Master Plan, and discussion of cities choosing to give priority to retaining street trees.
An important moment in the April 30th Meeting came when Rich Unger, a retired planner who is chair of the Stockade Association’s Infrastructure Committee, and working on a neighborhood Sidewalk Survey for the Association, stated his support for a City-wide preservation policy, which would be adopted in a City Council resolution after research, drafting, and consensus-building. Mr. Unger is, however, more optimistic than I that the City Engineer is willing to work to consider and permit alternative ways to repair sidewalks in order to save a tree. If true, that would make achieving a formal tree preservation requirement less urgent.
Rich Unger’s optimism is only realistic, however, if the City Engineer has changed the criteria applied by the Office in 2008 on N. Ferry St., and again in its Washington Ave. plan in 2010. In both those instances, every large street tree was considered to pose too big a liability risk to leave in place, because root chopping during construction could damage the tree, making it more likely to topple in the future. It appears that no options other than removal were considered in 2008 and 2010 (such as rerouting or narrowing the sidewalk, ramping it, or leaving and monitoring healthy trees that had a sufficient portion of their root system intact), due to that fear of liability. The continuing stress on liability by Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson in recent correspondence (see our “why worry” posting), shows a reluctance to consider alternative repair options that continues to put large street trees greatly at risk.
Thus, with the City voicing its preference to work a block at a time, doing the sidewalk work at the same time as repaving the road, as on N. Ferry St., we can expect that virtually every mature street tree will be slated for removal when the City “does” a block, unless other options are fully considered, and greater leeway given to retain (and monitor) an otherwise healthy tree after its root system is reduced. The way to avoid such a result is to promulgate a Tree Preservation Policy that requires the City arborist to determine in good faith, for each tree that is not dead, dying or dangerous, whether there is a viable option other than removing the tree.
SIGNIFICANCE of LARGE TREES
Virtually all of the benefits we receive from trees growing in our “urban forests” are directly related to their size — from cleaning air and water, cooling pavement, shading homes and reducing utility bills, muffling noise, and dampening traffic speed, to luring tourists, shoppers, and residents, with their beauty and shelter. This is a core message for S.O.S. Trees.
The handout sheet to the right shows a sampler of effects of removing all large street trees on N. Ferry St. in 2008. Planting the smaller replacement trees is simply a lose-lose situation, and not a defense that justifies removing healthy street trees.
. . . Size Matters. Click on the image to the left for a pdf. version of the Size Matters exhibit presented at our First Meeting. Each page has a large-font quotation from an expert concerning the relationship between the size of trees and the tree canopy and the resulting benefits to a community. For a fuller discussion of the issue, see the Size Matters section of our posting “why worry about our large street trees?“.
Example of a bad trade-off: 36 N. Ferry St.
Meeting attendees were able to compare side-by-side, with photos taken from similar perspectives, 8″x10″ photo collages showing N. Ferry St. in 2007 (prior to the street 2008 tree removal), and in mid-April 2016. Click on the following images to see larger versions comparing N. Ferry St. in 2007 [L] and 2016:
The 2016 photo collage above [lower, R], showing the streetscape 8 years after the “improvements” of 2008, belies the statement from an Assistant City Engineer that, ”[I]f you give the [the small replacement trees] 5-10 years, they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.” [The photos collages will be available to view at Arthur’s Market throughout the S.O.S. Trees campaign.]
During an outdoor session, those attending the Meeting were also able, by looking down the streets that intersect Lawrence Circle, to see several at-risk blocks of Stockade trees. Each block has significant numbers of healthy or treatable street trees that deserve to be saved, even if they are standing alongside uneven or damaged sidewalks.
.. above: an eastward view up Front St. and Green Street at Lawrence Circle, May 5, 2016 . .
ALTERNATIVES to TREE REMOVAL
An important exhibit at the April 30th Meeting centered on the publication “Trees and Sidewalks in Chillicothe”. Chillicothe is a small and historic municipality in Ohio. Its guide for residents having tree-sidewalk conflicts is a particularly thoughtful and easy-to-read resource for those wanting to learn about the benefits of preserving our urban street canopies and about practical options available to avoid the removal of trees that are not dead, dying or dangerous. The report begins its description of the problems and solutions by saying:
“Both sidewalks and trees are crucial in providing important services to our residents and visitors. When there are conflicts between trees and sidewalks, we must be thoughtful in our approach to effectively spend limited dollars and truly address the problem. Surprisingly, there are often efficient and inexpensive ways to repair walks and at the same time retain nearby trees.”
One point made in the Chillicothe Report that deserves special emphasis is: “When considering sidewalk repair, there are several well established and inexpensive techniques available. The typical approach of ripping out the old and re-constructing a new walk is the most expensive and this can damage the nearby trees.”
. . If you click on the yellow exhibit sign on the left, you will see a printable version of the large-font quotations used in our Chillicothe Exhibit.
- For other sources on Alternatives to Removing Trees when repairing sidewalks and repaving streets, see the discussion at the bottom of our posting “sidewalks vs. trees”. One helpful resource is the monograph “Sidewalks and Roots: Mitigating the Conflict—An Overview” by Gordon Mann of Auburn, California, which has descriptions of alternative and innovative solutions to tree removal, mentioning the advantages and disadvantages of each process or material. Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), a nonprofit organization in Washington State, reproduced Mann’s helpful article on its website.
WHAT’s NEXT for S.O.S TREES?
After a good start on April 30th, how can Save Our Schenectady Trees use these days and months after Arbor Day to organize for success, increase its momentum, and achieve its goal of a Street Tree Preservation Policy in the near future for Schenectady? If you have suggestions, or want to volunteer, please let us know at SOSTrees@nycap.rr.com .
Here are some of the tasks that belong on a potential To-Do List for preparing to gain support, advertise and explain our campaign, gather needed facts, explore what is being done to save street trees in other municipalities (both in ordinances and master plans, and on the streets and sidewalks), and shape a tree policy that fits the needs and circumstance of Schenectady.
- Contact “City Hall” officials (executive, legislative, or administrative), especially those with whom you already have a good working relationship, to let them know of your support for Tree Preservation and opposition to removing street trees that are not dead, dying or dangerous, and to ask for their support;
- Target the Mayor’s Office, City Engineer, City Council, and Planning Commission members, looking for allies, open minds.
- Historic District Commission: look for members likely to be open to the argument that large trees are particularly important to historic districts, and that protection for street trees should be set out in Commission regulations or a City Council resolution; explore using Commission budget to study the issues; advocate a Report from the Commission to the Mayor and Council.
- Click this link for City Government and Media Contact Information.
- The Media. We need to raise our profile and our voices to show the existence of significant community interest and support. For example, supporters should:
- Write Letters to the Editor of the Schenectady Gazette, at firstname.lastname@example.org, supporting a tree preservation policy for Schenectady, or for its Historic Districts, perhaps with a moratorium on removing street trees that are not causing a risk to life or limb;
- approach journalists and editors with ideas for relevant news stories; and/or
- contact broadcast media offices or personalities asking for coverage of S.O.S. Trees or the tree preservation issue generally
- Stockade Association: Remind SA that preserving Stockade trees was at the top of the list of items drawn up at the founding meeting of the Association of ways to protect and preserve the neighborhood. More specifically, a) Follow up with Rich Unger to strategize on achieving a tree preservation policy for the City. b) Let officers and board members know that you expect them to actively oppose unnecessary removal of our street trees and to actively support a tree preservation policy and the use of alternatives to tree removal when sidewalks are repaired or replaced; c) Call for having this topic on the agenda of either a special or regular Association Meeting.
- Research. Volunteers are needed to gather information on: a) Arborists and contractors in the area with experience in repairing sidewalks in a manner that protects and preserves trees, and in monitoring post-improvement conditions; b) the procedures used in cities and towns with tree preservation ordinances, and outcomes when alternatives are utilized; c) model ordinances related to trees in the public right of way; d) liability: likelihood of City being sued and amount of damages should a tree with chopped roots topple after sidewalk repair; e) shifting repair cost of sidewalks from the property owner when a City tree causes a sidewalk to violate Code; f) comparative costs of various alternatives to removing a tree when repairing sidewalks; g) other topics needing study, understanding, etc.
- Neighborhood Associations. Working relationships and information sharing with neighborhood group leaders are a priority.
- Early Warning. One or more volunteers are needed to maintain and/or cultivate sources of information concerning imminent construction projects impacting sidewalks and street trees.
- Structure of S.O.S. Trees: This Campaign needs to be organized for success. Persons with experience with setting up and implementing similar projects (viz., campaigns to have a particular policy or legislative proposal adopted by a local government body) are urged to lend brains and hands to the cause.
- Steering Committee: a small group of volunteers is needed to set the agenda, tone, strategy and tactics of S.O.S. Trees. If interested, please get in touch with David Giacalone.
- Meetings. The question of how often, when and where meetings of S.O.S. Trees will be held needs to be addressed.
- Outreach. Whether we will attempt to hold rallies, attend picnics, festivals, and other community events with signage, address groups, launch a petition, adopt a tree or treescape, and engage in similar activities, are questions that must be answered soon.
Preserving a Legacy: S.O.S. Trees has the potential to make an important impact on Schenectady’s appearance, ambiance, and quality of life. Street trees are a public resource that should be a legacy protected, passed on, and improved upon for future generations. To achieve that goal, we need a small core of “Tree Savers” willing to commit more than a token amount of time to the campaign. Please consider whether you can make such a commitment and the amount of time available for the cause. And, please submit your ideas on how to make Save Our Schenectady Trees a success.