was the Pump Station another Rendering Ruse?

above & below: RENDERINGS of new North Ferry St. Pump Station at Schenectady’s Riverside Park,  submitted to the public October 2017.  (The grand, hundred-year-old tree marked with a white asterisk by the editor, is preserved in the renderings. Also, the façade of the Old Pump House is visible from the West Lawn.)


View from the East, December 20, 2021: The façade of the New Pump House has been moved much closer to the River, blocking the formerly expansive view of the West Lawn from east of the Old Pump House.

View from West, Dec. 17, 2021:  New Pump Station constructed farther to the north and west than originally depicted. obstructing view of Old Pump House and taking up (“alienating”) more of the West Lawn.

– June 2017

– April 2020

pumpstation11apr2020.jpg  . .

. . above: Grand Old Tree [L] April 11, 2020; [R] April 22, 2020 . .

– July 28, 2020


. . above: the reinforcement and framing for the underground portion of the New Pump Station make it obvious that the new building will stand significantly north of the Old Pump House, blocking the view of it from the west portion of the Park and when approaching from the west on the Mohawk River . .  

. . and see the followup (June 23, 2020): “Conclusions from the June 1st Pump Station Briefing” . .

. . share this post with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/RenderingRuse


INTRODUCTION: The grand old tree that graced the West Lawn of Riverside Park for over a century was chopped down last week on Earth Day 2020, April 22. (Marked with a white asterisk in the two renderings above; 2017 photo on the right.) It was still healthy, with a diameter of 60 inches. Many Stockade residents and Riverside Park lovers where surprised, shocked, saddened. We were sure that significant tree would be preserved in the multi-million dollar pump station project being staged currently at the Park. We did know that a few “lesser” trees along the pump station’s original fence did need to come down to fit a new pump station on the lot of the old pump house. As would be expected, those lesser trees do not appear in the 2017 renderings, which are meant to show what a site will look like after the proposed construction is completed.

PumpStaMay2019Plan . . “surprise” May 2019 Plan .  We sought explanations. In an email on April 27, 2020, to Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger, we were given “answers” by the CHA Project Engineer for the New North Ferry Street Pump Station project, Mike Miller. Mr Miller answered questions from Stockade resident Emmanuel Maillet, whose backyard borders on that part of the Park. Miller wrote that the conclusion the Grand Old Tree needed to be removed was made at the time the City asked the engineers to put the new pump station on the old lot, rather than their proposal to put it on the Park’s beautiful West Lawn. Miller added that its removal was included in the “final plans” they developed in May 2019 (click on image at head of this paragraph):

[Q] When did it first become clear that the [huge old tree in Riverside Park] had to go?  [A] Removal of the tree was first determined to be necessary when the City was requested to build the new facility adjacent to the existing pump house.  Provisions for removal of the tree were included in final plans that were developed for the Project, dated 5/14/19.

But the City’s request to move the needed pump station was made months before the above renderings showing the Grand Tree were presented in October 2017 to the City and the public. Those renderings did not reflect the actual (and apparently anticipated) fate of the beloved tree, but the public was not told and did not know that.

  • Mike Miller noted in a phone call with Emmanuel Maillet that the project architect put the tree in the renderings. We’ve heard nothing from the architect on this issue.

More to the point, no one in the Stockade community, including the Board of the Stockade Association, had ever heard of a 3rd/Final Pump Station Plan. [As of May 15, 2020, you will still not find it on the Association’s Pump Station Documents Page.] The May 2019 plat shows the Pump Station moved perhaps 20 feet to the north and west of the October 2017 version, thus purportedly necessitating the removal of the Grand Old Tree and completely blocking view of the Old Pump House from the west. The “secret” May 2019 plan, which we never knew about, did indeed indicate the Tree’s removal (as I have noted in red on the image to the right of this paragraph, which compares the May 2019 plan to the last public plan in October 2017; click on the collage for a larger version).

  • CONSTANT COMMUNICATION. When asked recently about the apparent failure of those responsible for the Pump Station Project to notify residents of the Stockade or its Association, both Mayor Gary McCarthy and Director of Operations Paul Lafond have mentioned that there has been constant communication with the Stockade Association officials over the past year. This is a true but misleading statement. It is telling, on the other hand, that Paul Lafond and Gary McCarthy both attended the 2019 Stockade Association Annual Meeting, which took place on May 16, 2019, just two days after the date of the May 2019 “final plan.” Nonetheless, according to Carol DeLaMater, who was SA president at the time, “There was no update from city on changes to site plan presented to HUD by GOSR on city’s behalf for CDBG-DR funding”. Of course, notice of important changes should be made before, not after (and certainly not a year after) promulgating a final plan revising a public Plan approved by the City Council and supported by the public.

PS-TreeRemovalsPlanGOT The Tree Removals Plan submitted by the City for the initial Environmental Assessment in Nov. 2018 (at 62), showed five trees being removed, but did not include the Grand Old Tree as one of them (click on the annotated thumbnail image to the left). In the May 9, 2019 revised Environmental Report (at 31), the removal of five trees was again indicated on the submission (with no blue ink to show a change), but the large tree that had already been removed to the east of the Old Pump House was no longer on the plat. Thus, the “five trees” for removal now included the Grand Old Tree, but the text was not changed to show it was actually a 6th tree that would be removed for this Project. See the annotated screenshot immediately below.



Blocked View of the Old Pump House Façade


. . the secret May 2019 plan would block views of the Old Pump House façade from the west, by placing the front face of the New Station closer to the River than the Old Pump House . .

  • PS-SetbackVAnother very important change in the May 2019 Plan is the moving of the new station to the north (closer to the River) so that it significantly blocks the view of the picturesque and beloved Old Pump House from the west. (The image to the right shows the last public renderings from October 2017, with the new station set back to keep the façade of the Old Pump House and a west-facing arched window in view from the west.) In an environmental impact assessment, obstructing the view of a Historic Resource or District is deemed an adverse impact that must be removed or mitigated. [see NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Visual Impact Assessment Policy (2000)] We were never told about, and so were not able to contest, what would be an irreversible loss if the May 2019 Plan is followed.
  • The State Historic Preservation Office [SHPO] okayed the October 2017 location and footprint of the project, based on the then-existing “site plan”, drawings and renderings for the project. However, it appears that SHPO never considered the new location of the Pump Station for the final GOSR Environmental Assessment (May 9, 2019) of the North Ferry St. Pump Station, which included no new renderings or sketches, but has a cover image that continues to show the new station set back south of the façade of the Old Pump House.

But, who knew such a plan existed?

The following statement from the April 2020 Stockade Spy (at 2) presents comments of Mike Miller to the Stockade Association and does not mention a May 2019 Final Plan:

According to Mike Miller from CHA Inc, the proposed design for the pump station (e.g., building footprint or elevation) has not changed since it was presented for public input in fall of 2017. The layout for the pump station requires that the average encroachment into the park (along the west parcel line) be less than 30 -feet, per the parkland alienation legislative language. Based on the survey for the existing pump station parcel, the current layout results in an average encroachment beyond the pump station lot of just under 28-feet. The north fence line along the river will be relocated closer to the pump station, resulting in more accessible park land which can be utilized by the public. This results in negligible loss of lands for public use within Riverside Park.

After seeing the May 14, 2019 “final” Plan sent by Mr. Miller to SA President Suzanne Unger,  I have to conclude that his statement to the Spy for the April edition seems to be crafted to be reassuring and to deter probing questions, but in doing so was highly misleading. Mr. Miller’s standard that the “average encroachment into the park be less than 30 feet,” misstates the City Council’s clarifying resolution, which clearly states that “any overflow into Riverside Park will be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station.” It goes on the resolve that: 

without a full public hearing on such design, the City Council shall approve no contract for the construction of a new pump station, and no construction shall be approved if the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park.
Mr. Miller may be correct that the footprint and elevation, and outward design, of the Pump Station had not changed in the 2019 Plan. (Actually, the facility appears to be larger in the 2019 Plan, as the Old Pump House is the same size in each drawing.) But, the location has been shifted north and west, resulting in an encroachment of more than 30’ into the Park and condemning the Grand Old Tree. His assertion that “average encroachment beyond the pump station lot [is] just under 28-feet,” is surely strong evidence that the encroachment is more than the allowed 30 feet in some places.  Yet, we were never given the chance, and apparently neither was the City Council, to question that Plan and suggest alternatives.

Riggi: Hold your feet to the fire.

  • Note (May 7, 2020): I’ve been trying to find out whether the May 14, 2019 plat (also shown in the plan-comparison collage above) was ever brought to the attention of City Council, which passed a special Clarifying Resolution in June 2017, Res. 2017-179, requiring a public hearing before approving any plan for the Pump Station protruding into the Park more than 30 feet from the original fence.  See “what the Parkland Alienation Resolutions mean” (June 13, 2017), at our sister website “Suns along the Mohawk”.  update: (May 19, 2020): City Council member Marion Porterfield, after receiving email from Emmanuel Maillet and David Giacalone asking whether the Council had ever seen the May 2019 Plan, put the issue on the Council Agenda for its May 18, 2020 Committees Meeting. The Mayor assured her she would get a reply within a few days from the relevant City officials. We await her findings.
    • update (May 28, 2020): City Council now plans to have a Pump Station Briefing by relevant officials at its June 1, 2020 Committees Meeting, which will be held “remotely” by teleconference. Click for the AgendaJoin by Phone: 1-415-655-0001; WebEx Access Code: 161 708 6723; Meeting Password: E7HjBk9HSu2
  • Former Council Member Vince Riggi wanted no portion of the Park alienated for the Pump Station, and voted No on the Alienation Resolution. Vince did, however, vote Yes on the Clarifying Parkland Preservation Resolution, warning his colleagues that he would “hold their feet to the fire” to assure the Mayor and Council enforced the Clarifying Resolution’s 30′ maximum intrusion into the Park. When I asked Vince Riggi on May 4 if he recalls ever having the May 2019 Plan submitted to City Council, he wrote right back:
“I do not and I’m sure that is something I would not forget.
  • In addition, bolstering our expectation that the tree would be preserved, a plat of the project site submitted to the City in July 2017 showed the Grand Old Tree outside of the portion of parkland the City wanted to alienate to accommodate the new pump station. Click on the annotated detail to the right.
  • Moreover, the Old Tree stood well outside the 30-foot distance from the original fence that City Council requested not be exceeded without a public hearing on any further impingement into the Park. Measurements taken by myself and a neighbor in 2017 are seen in the photo immediately below. [At the bottom of our prior posting, you can read City Council’s June 12, 2017 Resolution, Res. 2017-179, with its stated intent to preserve Riverside Park parkland.]


YES, ANOTHER RENDERING RUSE. Taking all of the above into consideration, and receiving no contrary claims from proponents of the new pump station, it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the City Council, Stockade, and general public are the victims of a Rendering Ruse. “What’s that?”, you ask. This is my definition:

Rendering Ruse: The use of architectural renderings or engineering drawings that are submitted during a planning process, to gain favor for a project, that show important elements (whether treasured, beloved, historic, popular, etc.), and the viewshed or visibility of such elements, being preserved in the finalized project, that are nonetheless gone when the project is completed.

The compromise leading to the June 12, 2017 Clarifying Resolution was praised by the pleasantly surprised Gazette Editorial Board (June 16, 2017). The editorial nonetheless cautions:

“opponents will still need to maintain the pressure to ensure the city keeps its pledges, including speaking out at the promised public hearing on any new design proposal.”

Clearly, we were not sufficiently vigilant, and were too trusting of a City Hall that has in no way earned that trust when it come to preservation in the face of “progress.”

. . click the collage thumbnails below to see more of the Grand Old Tree and its fate . .

. .

smallquestionmark (update: May 15, 2020): WHAT’s the STOCKADE ASSOCIATION DOING about this? The members of the Stockade Association [“SA”] are rarely asked their opinion on any topic. Instead, the SA Board normally acts on its own, without a significant attempt to ascertain what its members and others in the Stockade neighborhood and community would like to see done.*/ My subjective opinion, admittedly seen from the outside, is that the primary objective of the Association’s Board and Officers most often seems to be not upsetting City Hall, which has frequently been referred to as “Our Partner in Progress” by the Spy, SA’s official newsletter.

*/ Thus, e.g., Board members waited months before being embarrassed into notifying the neighborhood and fighting placement of a Pump Station on the West Lawn, which would have greatly harmed the Park; it was almost too late, but the SA and community acted with one, effective voice once finally roused (proving that strong advocacy can indeed work). In prior years, without first canvassing its members,  (1) the then-sitting Board told City Hall that there was no opposition to a 300-foot dock at Riverside Park (although, once allowed to voice their opinion, the neighborhood voted two to one against a dock); (2) Refused to even put the Casino application on the SA meeting agenda (although the Stockade election district had voted less than a year before against having any commercial casinos upstate). Indeed, before there even was a Casino Application from Schenectady, the sitting SA President (an appointee and supporter of Schenectady’s Mayor) told the Gazette a casino would be a very good thing and she could see no negatives for the Stockade; (3) Welcomed giant boulders at the end of each street along the Park; And, (4) were the only neighborhood association to support John Polimeni’s disastrous Sidewalk Assessment District Plan.

Here, the Board did not first engage the community in a conversation when faced with some serious questions from a number of residents about how the Grand Old Tree could be removed despite the renderings displayed in the last public plan, and why the Board failed to know about the May 2019 Plan, despite dozens of communications between the project leaders and SA officers. Instead, it composed and sent a Letter to the Mayor and City Council, dated May 8, 2020, which was sent by email to SA members but not to the far larger Listserve of Stockade residents and supporters, where the questions about the Earth Day tree removal and the secret surprise Plan had been raised. The Letter from the Board to City Hall:

  • BdLetterCovercalled the communications problems “a snag”
  • assured Mayor and Council they did not think there was any “bait-n-switch” despite the claims of some residents
  • pointed out that the public could have viewed the “plan” at City Hall [despite not knowing about it];
  • concluded that the overflow of more than 30 ft. into Riverside Park was consistent with the Council’s Clarifying Resolution, because it was underground, not above ground [rebutted in this email from David Giacalone]; and
  • noted that not telling the Association about the changes until last month was “a missed opportunity”: “If we had been told a year ago, we could have prepared residents for this change, pointed out to them that trees would be lost and given them some time to process the information.”

Of course, significant changes to an approved plan should be made public to give City Council, nearby residents, and other interested persons the opportunity to review them, raise concerns, and offer alternatives, and not so their “representatives” on the Board can prepare them emotionally for the negative effects. The “opportunity missed” by the Pumping Station engineers and proponents was the chance to respond a year ago to questions about the changes, and if facts and reasoning supported the changes, to thereby quell dissent.

  • 125NFerryMay2020update (May 30, 2020): Justifications given by a contractor for a significant change need to be evaluated and tested. For example, earlier this week, CHA engineer Miller told Emmanuel Maillet that the new pump station had to be located further north and west than in the October 2017 Plan, because the contractor could not get permission to stage construction along a strip of land belonging to the first house to the south of the lot., 125 No. Ferry Street. The owner of that house wrote a letter to the Gazette Editor, published on July 6, 2017,  strongly opposed to the new location on the old pump station lot.  Her unwillingness to cooperate should have been known long before May 2019. A number of observers believe that there were other options readily available at the site for staging that portion of the construction. Such options could have been considered, along with any added cost in dollars and time, in an attempt to mitigate the adverse impact of the May 2019 change in location. If the Council acts quickly, and finds insufficient justification for the changes in the May 2019 plan, it may not be too late to revert to the approved October 2017 Plan.

The proprietor of this website wrote an email to Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger on the day their Letter to City Hall was written, May 8th, only having seen it because an SA member immediately forwarded the Letter to the Stockade Yahoo Listserve.  It has been a full week (Friday, evening, May 15, 2020), and SA President Unger has not responded in any way to my email and questions. (update: still no reply as of June 8, 2020) As the person who wrote the first draft of the Clarifying Resolution, and for many other reasons, I believe the May 2019 Plan violated that Resolution. I won’t go through my points again here, but urge you to read my email to Suzy Unger, if interested.

  • Click to see the SA Board’s May 6, 2020 Resolution explaining their conclusions, and authorizing the May 8 Letter to City Hall.  “Whereas” clauses in the Board Resolution twice use the phrase “building overflow”, saying its use in the Council’s Clarifying Resolution, Res. 2017-179, supports the conclusion that the 30-foot restriction on encroachment only applies to above-ground buildings. The word “building” does not appear in that final version of the Council Resolution, and was not in my first draft of that Clarifying Resolution. Of course, the underground part of the new Pump Station will also be a “building.” SA President Suzanne Unger has not replied to my inquiry as to the source of the phrase “building overflow.” At the bottom of our posting “What the Parkland Alienation Resolutions Mean” (June 13, 2017), you will see the official version of Res. 2017-179 from the City Code website, at 46-47; on May 13, 2020, City Clerk Samanta Mykoo confirmed that the version on the City website is correct).

Pulling off a Rendering Ruse is clearly easier to do when the neighborhood association chartered to “preserve, promote and improve” the district and neighborhood (and represent it to local government) treats the City rather than the neighborhood as its Partner.

OTHER RENDERING RUSES?  One factor favoring the Ruse conclusion here is that it seems to be part of a series of “rendering ruses” (misleading renderings) and similar bait-in-switch episodes in the recent history of Schenectady planning, development, and preservation. Were they intentionally deceptive or inadvertently (negligently) misleading? You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.

But, first, what is a rendering and what do I mean by a ruse?

Architectural rendering, architectural illustration, or architectural visualization is the art of creating two-dimensional images or animations showing the attributes of a proposed architectural design. (Wikipedia)

“Architectural rendering allows an architect to create two-dimensional animations or images with the main goal of showcasing all attributes that should be included in the final design.” (EasyRender.com)

A rendering can be used to communicate a project’s design to the end user. “Buy in” from users, whether employees, customers, or members of the general public, is frequently an important component of a successful project. Renderings can be shown to users during the design process to solicit their feedback, or at the end of the design process to educate users on how a new space will look or function. (SOA-Inc.com)

ruse: n. “a wily subterfuge” (Merriam-Webster)

Putting something the public (and City Council) wants preserved into a submitted rendering can avoid controversy that would be expected by the developer or City if the element were depicted as removed or destroyed in the construction of a project. Such a controversy might force project proponents to admit the loss of the treasured object, jeopardizing its approval, or delay the project for negotiations that might result in more expenses or much bitterness.

Here are some of the candidates for the Rendering Ruse category that have been documented at this website.

  . .

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our slip ‘n’ fall sidewalk plan was no accident

See our posting “Can the sidewalk plan be repaired?” for a summary of the situation as of Jan. 29, 2020.


The City of Schenectady government slipped and fell hard on its collective butt in orchestrating completion of the first block of sidewalks under its Sidewalk Assessment District Plan. Of course, it is the Petitioners on Ardsley Rd., and eventually Schenectady taxpayers, who will feel the pain. The new Ardsley Rd. sidewalks on the block from Union St. to Rugby Rd. are apparently fine, but the failure to inform the Homeowners of the surprisingly high cost may doom the entire Sidewalk Program, which relies on property owners convincing their neighbors to participate with predictions of big savings.

. . share this post with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalkFiasco

The Sidewalk Plan was controversial for being adopted by City Council without needed details and explanation (see Gazette article, March 13, 2019; click to see the disappointing Explanation of the Plan provided to the Council and the public by sponsor John Polimeni). Nevertheless, there was nothing inevitable about the “slip ‘n’ fall” calamity that happened on the way to replacing and billing for the new sidewalks on Ardsley Road. See our discussion here for full details; and “City hits speed bump with sidewalk program” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, Jan. 3, 2020); “Foss: City’s new sidewalk program a disappointment” (Sunday Gazette, by Sara Foss, Jan. 5, 2020).

 Even after the Sidewalk Plan was prematurely brought up for a vote and adopted by the City Counsel in a 4-3 vote in March 2019 (with Vince Riggi, Leesa Perazzo, and Marion Porterfield voting No ), there were many points at which the outcome of the first completed block — an approved Contractor Bid with Ardsley Rd. Homeowner Costs 84% higher than Plan sponsor John Polimeni’s estimates, and initial Annual Bills calculated at an even higher rate, with no prior warning to Homeowners — could and should have been avoided.

On the other hand, the excessive cost to the Ardsley Rd. homeowners, and failure to keep them informed, was not an accident, either. It was due to deliberate choices made by the two City officials most actively engaged in the Sidewalk District Assessment Plan: Council member John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Wallin, along with secondary negligent oversight by the remaining Council members.

Part of the problem might have been that Prof. Polimeni believed, as he told a Gazette reporter last March, that “the process would be ‘relatively easy’ despite the numerous city agencies involved”, and “It’s not your typical runaround sometimes you get.” Nonetheless, relatively easy or not:

Ardsley Road Contractor Bid

  1. NO WEBPAGE. The promise of City Officials (mentioned in the Gazette last March) to “attempt to quickly add a section to the city’s website about frequently asked questions concerning the program,” was never fulfilled.
  2. MAY 1 DEADLINE. The first deadline set by the City Engineer, May 1, for completed Petitions was only 6 weeks after the Plan was passed by the Council, helping to assure that the first bid request would involve only one block’s Petition.
  3. ONLY ONE BID. When only one Contractor submitted a Bid for the Ardsley Road project, the Plan administrators pushed ahead, rather than waiting until more Petitions were ready for a joint bid request, even if that meant waiting until Spring for the projects to be started.
  4. 84% HIGHER. When the single bid for Ardsley Road came in with prices to the Homeowner 84% higher than the Polimeni estimates given in the Plan Statement earlier in the year, the cost overage was
    1. Never brought to the attention of the full City Council
    2. Never used as a reason to delay the Plan implementation
    3. NO DISCLOSURE. More importantly, never revealed to the Ardsley Street homeowners, despite requests by Homeowners for cost information throughout the summer.
  5. SidewalkCmteMtgPREMATURE COMMITTEE VOTE: When Mr. Wallin presented the Contractor Bid for approval and award of the Contract (at City Council Committee Meeting for Sept. 3, 2019), neither he nor Mr. Polimeni alerted Council members, and the viewing public, that the Homeowners had not yet seen the dollar figures, much less been given the chance to withdraw their Petition. And,
    1. LAST-MINUTE SUBMISSION. Wallin did not submit the focus of the Presentation, the actual Contractor Bid, for Council members to review until the start of his 15-minute presentation to the Council Members on Sept. 3, 2019.
    2. NOT “ALMOST EXACT”. Mr. Wallin specifically told City Council members prior to asking for the Committee approval of the Bid, that that the Bid “comes in almost exactly at our construction estimate, based on our historic experience.” Intentionally or not, Wallin seems to have confused the historic cost of $80 per square yd. that was used in Polimeni’s Estimates, with the Bid price of $81.71 per linear foot, which resulted in a cost 84% higher than the Polimeni Estimates. Or, as he has done before, Mr. Wallin said the Party line to support a favorable vote.
    3. SILENT PROFESSOR. At no point did Mr. Polimeni, chair of the Finance Committee and sponsor of the request for bid approval, correct the mis-impressions presented by Mr. Wallin, leaving some Council members unaware of the failure to present the Bid numbers to the Homeowners, and unaware of the giant cost increase from Plan estimates.
      1. AND, FINANCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS: It is very difficult to believe that the two other members of the Finance Committee, John Mootooveren and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, allowed this matter to be placed on the Council Committees agenda without knowing how high the price would be for the Homeowners and without asking whether the Homeowners were ever told of the Bid results. If they knew the situation, they are also at fault for failing to inform the rest of the Council before they all voted to accept the Bid and award the construction contract.
  6. CONSENT AGENDA. Still not informed of the mis-impressions stated above, on September 9, 2019, the City Council approved the bid and contract award presented at the Sept 3. Committees meeting, with the Resolution placed on the Consent Agenda and no public discussion.
    1. There is no indication that any of the Ardsley Rd. Homeowners were notified formally or informally of their Contract Bid being on the Sept. 3 or Sept. 9 agendas.
  7. KEPT IN THE DARK. At the time construction of the sidewalk project began in October, the affected Homeowners were still unaware of the cost increase. And, they were never shown or told of the higher prices after the project was completed in November and into December.
  8. SURPRISE BILLS. When they received their bills in late December from the City for the first of ten annual Sidewalk Payments, the Ardsley homeowners had still not been shown the approved Contractor Bid Sheet, and were given no explanation for the amount they were charged, which was about $100 per ft., another 25% higher than the Contrator Bid “Total Resident Cost” of $81.71 per foot of sidewalk.
  9. TOP SOIL? Mayor McCarthy stated the extra cost was due to unexpected tree removal and landscaping expenses. But, the Contractor Bid specifies that Tree Removal was a City Share expense (see detail from Bid to the Left), not a Homeowner Expense. And the $81.71 price per foot already included seed and topsoil expenses, and has no provision for adding on unexpected costs. See image to Left. update (Jan. 23, 2020): Mayor McCarthy, along with Ed Kosiur, have kept up the refrain that the Ardsley bills were so high because of unexpected Tree Removal and Top Soil & Seed costs. See “Schenectady Mayor promises to fix troubled sidewalk program” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 23, 2020). The detail from the Contractor Bid above in ¶8 shows that the total Top Soil and Seeds cost in the Bid came to under $4000, only 3.3% of the $116,435 total cost to residents.

. . Ardsley Rd. Homeowners generally like the new sidewalks, but they cannot forget how poorly they were treated during this “pilot” block project . . 

Why would City Hall treat the Homeowners on the Ardsley Road Petition so shabbily? It is difficult to believe that John Polimeni and Chris Wallin are too ignorant of fair play and good government processes to accidentally keep the Residents and the Council informed.  If nothing else, Mr. Polimeni was being asked for the bid/cost information before and after the sidewalks were completed. Wallin said he wanted to beat the winter weather, but that assumes there was some great disadvantage to waiting until Spring. The only reason that makes sense to me is that Polimeni (and probably his Party leaders) wanted the block to be a milestone to point to in the Election.



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comments on the Stockade Streetscape Plan (with updates)

deskdude The Stockade Association’s Infrastructure Committee has put in a lot of work on the Stockade Comprehensive Streetscape Plan – “Streetscape Vision Project“, and I thank all of the members and officers for their efforts. Their accumulation of information on appropriate materials and tree replacements seems quite thorough and gives helpful guidance as we move forward. I offer the thoughts below constructively, and with the knowledge that reasonable minds can differ on goals and strategies, and the hope that differences will be heard (on all sides) with an open mind and without rancor. As always, these are merely “my opinions”, based on my own aesthetic values and experiences, and offered to get others thinking.

No matter whether you agree with my opinions and comments or not, I hope you will let the Association Streetscape Committee know your views. You can share this posting using this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/StreetscapeComments

  • Click: For a copy of the 55-page Streetscape Plan, [update: click for the Final Plan] and for the 80-page draft Appendices [or the Final Appendices]
  • The Stockade Association [“SA”] asks that comments be submitted by today May 4, 2019, on the Planning4Spaces Survey page. The form is not really a survey, but simply asks “Do you have any comments or questions about the Comprehensive Streetscape Plan?”
  • I apologize for putting up these comments on the last day, and hope that Streetscape Committee chair Suzy Unger will accept you comments even if they are slightly late.

red check follow-up (Dec. 23, 2019): There is a public hearing regarding Adoption of the Final Stockade Streetscape Plan at the Schenectady City Council meeting of December 23, 2019, at 7 PM.  Click this link for a copy of the one-page comments submitted by David Giacalone for the Public Hearing.

NOTE: Correction: As stated in the follow-up in the Public Art section below, there is an error in my Comments to City Council. While the use of Street Art is still proposed, the recommendation in the Final Draft of the Streetscape Plan that utility boxes be painted has been removed (as requested in this webpost).

The Literal VISION of the Stockade

When focusing on our Stockade streetscape, I believe is is especially important to reduce Visual Pollution in our lovely neighborhood. That might be especially important at a time when our society is trying to reduce distracted driving and walking, but it is surely a campaign for the ages.  Therefore, I believe that the Stockade Streetscape Plan [“the Plan”] should be explicitly trying to reduce or limit as much as possible, and not support, increased visual clutter, obstructions, and distractions.


First, then, I disagree with the recommendation that “Functional features in the street environment, such as sound abatement, retaining walls, and utility boxes can provide opportunities for public art,” no matter who is providing the art or reviewing it.  [click here to see the page in the Plan on Public Art.] Despite the good intentions and talents of the Schenectady Art Society, and no matter how much street scenes in other parts of Schenectady may need to be perked up, our Stockade streetscape does not need and will not be enhanced by covering “empty” spaces with splashes of color and public artistry, such as the painted signal box to the right, which is at the SW corner of S. Church and State Streets, and the one below at the SE corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street.


IMG_0491 Utility and signal boxes are bland for a reason – to be inconspicuous. Drivers and pedestrians (as opposed to casual strollers?) can do without additional distractions, especially at intersections. Click here for examples of SAS public art on utility boxes. It should not matter that the “art” is fun, cute, colorful, or “nice”. The question is whether the Stockade Historic District will be enhanced, and its appearance preserved, by the additional visual display. We might also wonder about needless controversy over a design that might be in place (and possibly deteriorating) for a very long time on your block.

PlanFinal-StreetArtFollow-up (Dec. 23, 2019): Although the Final Streetscape Plan continues to propose the use of Street Art in the Stockade (at 27; see screen shot of the page to the Left), the recommendation that utility boxes be painted has been removed. See Final Appendices, Appendix F, last Comment and Reply, p. 88). The removal of one of the most worrisome recommendations in the Draft Plan is much appreciated.

StockadeBannerBlue In 2011, I wrote and illustrated with photos that the Stockade had acquired “an embarrassment of banners,” when 31 nicely-designed brown banners were hung from telephone poles and lampposts on Union Street and South Church Streets in the Stockade. The first batch of banners were apparently deteriorated enough to require their replacement last year with similar blue banner, like the one on the left, which hangs on Union Street. The banners have increased in number, with additional blocks covered. As I said in 2011, they are too much of a good thing, even if someone else paid for them. The many arguments that I made in the 2011 posting seem just as valid today.  For example:
It does indeed make sense to have a welcome banner at the various entryways to the Historic District, aimed at both intentional visitors to the district, and accidental or inadvertent visitors or through-farers.  But, it’s rather difficult for me to fathom why anyone would want these banners on virtually every lamppost of our high-traffic blocks once you’ve entered the Stockade. . .  .

Unlike many other business and mixed-used sections of the City, Union Street in the Stockade is not a barren or blighted Schenectady streetscape that needs colorful or fluttering banners to improve its appearance, distract the eye, or provide faux festivity; nor is Church Street.

It comes down to aesthetics.   . . . putting up so many banners just seems like overkill — much too much of a good thing; and it sets an undesirable precedent for the creation and acceptance of visual clutter, and for the spending of money just because it’s available and offered to the Stockade.

To my eye, an overabundance of banners — a plethora of pennants — clearly distracts from the appearance of our community.

When looking east up Union Street from the corner of Ferry and Union, it is possible to
see a dozen of the blue Stockade District banners (when the leaves are down). Here are images of those banners taken May 2, 2019, with the banners numbered; click on a photo for a larger version:
Union St blue banners . . Union Street blue banners . . Union-Ferry-vieweastJPG
  • Also, to further diminish the image and brand of our Historic District, the blue banners are flying on two of the least attractive blocks in the neighborhood (S. College and S. Ferry from State St. to Liberty St.), which are NOT a part of the Stockade District:
S.Ferry banners  . . S. College banners
The Streetscape Plan and SA should, therefore, ask that DSIC remove the Stockade banners that are not actually serving a useful informational purpose at an entryway corner of the actual Stockade. Even 8 years after their first appearance, and with increased memory problems, I for one do not need to be reminded a dozen (or even four) times on one block that I am in the Stockade Historic District.
wires - Cucumber at Wash Av No Stockade Streetscape Plan should be complete without a protest, and a strategy, concerning the increased density and ugliness of the utility wires that plague our skyward vision. That is especially true, because the wires have been rapidly descending lower and lower, creating an excuse to further cut back (amputate and mutilate) our trees. I think a lot of my neighbors have stopped looking up when on foot and in vehicles here in the Stockade, and all around our City. 
When preparing photos of the recent crop of Stockade cherry blossoms for sharing online and with email, I found myself close-cropping virtually every image to minimize seeing the mess of wires. For example, here is the actual and the cropped version of a cherry blossom scene just north of Union Street on N. Ferry:
IMG_0425-001 . . IMG_0425-002
What can we do about the utility wires?  A brain-storming session among neighbors and our governmental leaders could surely come up with a longer or better list, but here are a few suggestions:
  • State that it is the Policy of the Stockade Association to actively work with local and state authorities and utility companies to improve the visual impact of utility wires, with better-planned and revamped arrangement, and perhaps use of technological advances that reduce the number of wires needed for any block or intersection.
    • Explore funding that might be used to raise wires rather than destroy the beauty of especially attractive street trees.
  • Meet with City and State elected representatives to seek action that curtails the visual pollution caused by utility wires.
  • Include in any weighing of whether or not to save a particular large street tree, or parts thereof, its role in helping to block the view of utility wires. The removal of street trees often leaves quite a shock due to the unveiling of Wire Terror.
  • As this is a citywide problem, other neighborhood associations and civic groups should be encouraged to join in efforts to remove or reduce utility wire blight.


.The Stockade Streetscape Plan needs strong, definitive statements that it is the Policy of the Stockade Association that:
  1. Mature Shade Tress along our streets are valuable assets (aesthetically, environmentally, and financially), and all practical measures must be taken to save every mature shade tree that is not dangerous or dead, including the use of alternative sidewalk improvement measures, and consistent maintenance. [see the information compiled at our Save Our Trees portal]
  2. Walkability and desire to visit, shop, and walk in the Stockade are often reduced when long stretches of sidewalk have no shade and offer little protection from precipitation.
  3. IMG_0501Any trimming of trees for utility purposes must be done to the minimal extent possible, with attention paid to the attractiveness of any trimming.
  4. Neighbors and the association should have the meaningful opportunity to comment before any large street tree, or shade tree clearly visible from the street, is allowed to be removed by the City, or its agents, or a property owner, unless there is an immediate safety emergency.
  5. The City, especially since it points to its status as a TreeCity, must employ a certified arborist, who is allowed to make professional judgments about preserving particular trees without interference from the City Engineer or Mayor.
  6. An official request should be made to the City’s Historic Commission by the Stockade Association for a policy regulation or recommendation to City Council for protection of mature trees in our historic districts.
Obviously, even when a tree is removed for legitimate reasons, it still can have a major impact on a block or neighbors. That should mean not only a careful assessment and transparent process before removing a currently healthy, non-dangerous tree, but also the implementation of a plan to assure proper maintenance.
  CampbellRowTrees . . IMG_9865
. . above: Campbell Row on Washington Ave. [L] a few years ago; [R] 2019 . . 
It is worrisome that the draft Plan states (at 31; emphasis added):
“The Stockade’s street tree population should have an abundance of newly planted and young trees, with established, maturing, and mature trees present in lower numbers
A theoretical standard that calls in general for urban forests with particular percentages of young and mature trees, should not become an excuse for indifference over the loss of any particular, existing mature tree. Mature shade trees and their canopies are indeed particularly valuable in historic districts, and often in fact delineate sections of cities that deserve protection due to their special ambiance and appeal.
Frankly, the following formulation, at 37 of the draft Plan, leaves too many potential excuses to take down otherwise healthy street trees:
“Although tree removal is usually considered a last resort, there are circumstances in which removal is necessary. Trees fail from natural causes such as diseases, insects, weather conditions, and from physical injury due to vehicles, vandalism, and root disturbances. DRG recommends that trees be removed when corrective pruning will not adequately eliminate the hazard or when correcting problems would be cost prohibitive. Trees that cause obstructions or interfere with power lines or other infrastructure should be removed when their defects cannot be corrected through pruning or other maintenance practices.”
Optimistic statements from neighbors that “we can trust the City” not to take down street trees without significant and legitimate reasons seem, in the light of actions and statements from City Hall and the City Engineer, unrealistic — and dangerous to our streetscape, given the permanence of a loss tree. Do not forget:
  • NFerry03May2019No. Ferry Street. The City took down every mature street tree on N. Ferry Street, in 2008, when it put in new sidewalks. Half a dozen years later, a responsible employee of our Engineer’s Office assured me that, in only 6 or 8 years, replacement trees will create a scene just as attractive as the lost canopy of mature trees. The reality on N. Ferry Street as of this week, 11 years after replacements were planted, is quite different. See image to the right. And, see a N. Ferry Street Deforestation Collage put together a few years ago.
  • 2010 Washington Avenue Project. In 2010, the City Engineer said they would take down every mature street tree in order to replace the sidewalks of that quintessential Stockade block.
  • City Hall Cherry Trees. We recently saw that the City could not be bothered to find a way to save its gorgeous display of cherry blossoms while planning a project to replace City Hall windows. Frivolously claiming that they were too close to the building or blaming the failure of the City to correctly prune them over the years, simply do not add up to a viable excuse for the loss. See in mem. City Hall cherry blossoms (April 25, 2019, at suns along the Mohawk)

img_0452 [L] 2019; [R] 2018 . .CIty Hall May 3, 2018

There is little reason to believe that the City Engineer, Corporation Counsel, and Mayor have changed their view about the need to remove a street tree when its roots are cut to replace or improve a sidewalk. For example, this quote and advice in the May 2018 Stockade Spy, was apparently based on discussion with the sidewalk maven in the City Engineer office:
Once a tree root begins to interfere with sidewalks, little can be done. When roots are cut to level the sidewalk, the tree nearly always fails with a few years.
Of course, I am not an arborist or engineer, but based on my reading on the subject, and practices in other municipalities, that statement seems extreme, if not basically incorrect. Last month, because he is familiar with the trees of the Stockade, I wrote to Fred Breglia, the arborist at Landis Arboretum, seeking his guidance on the issue of determining whether trimming or cutting roots in the process of replacing or repairing a sidewalk required removal of a tree for safety reasons. This is his response:
From: Fred Breglia <fred@landisarboretum.org>
Subject: Re: street treees and cut roots
Date: March 28, 2019 at 9:46:57 AM EDT
To: David Giacalone

Hello David,

Based on my experience, it is a case by case situation. It varies greatly based on species, age, time of year, health, root conditions, type of care/finesse used by the company. These are just some of the factors that can contribute to the end result. Trees are living things and just like a human undergoing surgery, the way the person will bounce back from the process cannot be determined prior to the event when things may vary during the event.
One suggestion is to have an arborist available or on call to watch over the process as it occurs.
I hope this helps,


In light of Fred’s guidance, using its existing relationship with the City Engineer, the Stockade Association and its Streetscape Plan should advocate a far more nuanced approach to the fate of trees whose roots will be or have been cut in the process of sidewalk repair or replacement. [For example, the engineer’s manual in one city states that a tree must be considered for preservation by an arborist when less than one-third of its roots have been removed.]

follow-up: Here are images of the street view of 1089 Ardsley Road from 2011 (Google Street image) on the left, and early in October 2019, after the Sidewalk District repaving was completed. We need to ensure that each Stockade tree is evaluated by a competent and neutral arborist before a healthy tree is removed.

The Stockade Association has never, to my knowledge, surveyed its members or the community as a whole, on their opinions regarding the City’s plans to convert Riverside Park’s only walkway into a bicycle-pedestrian path. Therefore, in using materials taken from the Bike Schenectady, I suggest:
  • Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 10.13.06 AMAdding a disclaimer regarding the designation of Riverside Park as a bike path, especially since the Schenectady Zoning Ordinance to this day permits the use of a bicycle on any park path only by those under ten or disabled. [see image to right]
  • Stating that the designation in Bike Schenectady of the portion of Washington Avenue from the River to the Historic Society as a future bike path (as opposed to a shared auto-bike roadway) appears incorrect and not practical. [Motorized vehicles such as cars and SUVs, and trucks, may not travel on a bike path.]
  • Requesting that the Overlook at Riverside Park no longer be used as a Bike Share station, as it disrupts a space designed to be serene and damages its masonry, and sits alongside a walkway where bicycles are not permitted under the Zoning Code.
  • Stop Signs Needed. For safety and peace of mind, a stop sign is needed on Washington Avenue (1) at Union Street for traffic coming north from State Street, and (2) at Front Street for traffic coming north and turning onto Front Street or Cucumber Alley. Currently, vehicles come at excessive speeds around blind or almost-blind corners. Also, more and more, bicyclists come the wrong way on Front Street between Church and Washington Ave. Vehicles turning from Washington Ave. cannot see them coming.
  • Delineating Parking Spaces with “tees” seems impractical and may actually lose spots when vehicles come in so many disparate lengths. If the tees are far enough apart to accommodate long vehicles, space will often be wasted. If the tees are too close to each other, longer vehicles will hang over onto the next space.
  • Parking Too Close to Corners. Tall, wide vehicles park are very prevalent and too often park far too close to intersections and crosswalks, making it difficult to see around them and know if vehicles, pedestrians, or bikes, are in the roadway. Although it may be impossible and undesirable to have vehicles park the full distance required under the Vehicle and Traffic Law from stop signs and cross walks, signs closer to each of them saying “No Parking Here to Corner” or “. . . to Crosswalk” are far more likely to be obeyed or to be policed.
  • Correction (in case you missed it): The list of one-way streets (at 10) incorrectly states: “Washington Avenue (except between State and Union)”.
Thank you for considering these suggestion. Please feel free to leave your polite comments, and please let the Stockade Association know your opinions on these topics and any others that concern you.

cherry blossom surprises

Two days ago (April 23, 2019), I had two surprises when I left the Stockade neighborhood with my camera looking for 2019 cherry blossoms. (To see blossoms in the Stockade this year, go to “suns along the Mohawk.)

One surprise was pleasant and one was not.

cb Harbor . .  IMG_0449

. . above: [L] Good Surprise at Mohawk Harbor; [R] Bad Surprise at City Hall


Rivers Casino rendering

PLEASANT SURPRISE: For the past few years, I have been amused by the cherry blossoms inserted by Rush Street Gaming in the renderings it used to depict the first set of plans for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. E.g. see image on the right. For example, on April 26, 2015, I wrote in a posting at this site:

By the way, in its environmental remarks to the Location Board, concerning impacting nearby neighborhoods or historic sites, Rush Street the Applicant said there are design elements of the project that reflect the Stockade influence. Perhaps they mean the cherry blossoms that will apparently bloom all year long at Mohawk Harbor’s Casino, but only about a week in the real Stockade District.

SchdyCasinoRenderingRear I had not yet seen cherry blossoms outdoors at Mohawk Harbor, and certainly not along the entrance to Rivers Casino, as shown in the rendering.  But, given the emphasis on cherry blossoms to the rear of the Casino-Hotel and near the riverbank (see rendering at Left and immediately below to the Right),  I decided to check out the situation while out hitting other blossom spots outside the Stockade.


cb HarborAlthough I did not find the robust mini-groves of trees indicated in the Casino’s renderings, nor groupings that might one day be robust or mini-groves, I did find a few young trees with cherry blossoms abloom, east of The Landing Hotel, on the casino-side of the ALCO bike-pedestrian path. See the trees pictured on the Left and at the top of this posting. There may be others that are not healthy enough to bloom or that are late-bloomers, but three healthy cherry blossom trees at Mohawk Harbor counts as a pleasant surprise, given the track record of the developers and of public servants charged with assuring compliance with plans.

UNPLEASANT SURPRISE.  About a half hour before arriving at Mohawk Harbor, I stopped for my annual viewing of the beautiful array of cherry blossoms in front of Schenectady’s City Hall, on either side of the main entrance, along Jay Street. My surprise was unpleasant and dispiriting. The trees that had for years given us gorgeous displays of bright pink cherry blossoms were gone. One rather straggly weeping blossom tree did survive, near the main stairway.

Instead of this array, seen on May 3, 2018:

CIty Hall May 3, 2018

. . on April 23, 2019, I encountered this scene:


. . along with several indications that something was missing:


  At this point, I have not heard any explanation from our consistently benighted City Hall and the McCarthy Administration for the cherry blossom massacre. George Washington could not tell a lie about chopping down a cherry tree. I wonder how the Mayor will respond. As/if any explanations are forthcoming, I will report them in updates at this posting.

  • For more photos of the former cherry blossom array at City Hall, go to the suns along the Mohawk posting “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms.” Who could have guess there would be more cherry blossoms at Mohawk Harbor than at City Hall?

From the webpost “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms“, at suns along the Mohawk:

update (April 29, 2019):

In the Gazette article “Removal of City Hall cherry trees leads to muted blooms (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, April 29, 2019, at C1, City Engineer Chris Wallin gave the City’s explanation for removal of the trees:

“They were removed so the city could perform our window restoration project,” City Engineer Chris Wallin said. “Under that contract, all of our original windows in the building will be removed, restored and replaced.”

With the help of a consultant, the city determined six trees were located too close to the building to perform the work effectively, prohibiting the installation of equipment and rigging.

The trees were not original to the building’s construction, and were planted in 2005 to commemorate Arbor Day by Re-Tree Schenectady, a non-profit organization that plants trees around the city.

. . .

IMG_7012-001 Wallin acknowledged the pleasant springtime vibrancy produced by the trees, but said cherry trees, in particular, require vigilant pruning and maintenance to keep under control, and the city hadn’t always performed the work.

“They started to really obscure the front of the building, which is a historically significant building,” Wallin said.

That wouldn’t happen in front of White House or Executive Mansion in Albany, he said.

A few points in rebuttal and in sorrow:

  • The sub-headline in the website edition of the Gazette was fact-based: “Trees removed to make way for restoration project”. But, the sub-headline in the print edition draws a conclusion: “Loss of blooms was unavoidable, but may make a return following city hall restoration project.” (Emphasis added, and sentiment rejected by your Editor.)
  • It is almost too obvious, but I might as well say it: Proper pruning over the years, and/or additional pruning last year to prepare for the restoration project should have been sufficient to save the trees. In my opinion, our so-called Tree City really needs an Arborist, and she or he should not be under the thumb of the Mayor or City Engineer, but should make recommendations based on good-faith, tree-oriented evaluations.
  • I’ve noted before that “Our Tree City has never found a reason too trivial to justify removing even healthy trees.”

p.s. Thank you, Gazette, for reporting on this topic and using our photo to illustrate what was lost.



a voice from North Street for saving trees


. . “I remember many years ago when North Street had many beautiful large healthy trees that were cut down. The street has some small trees which will never replace the huge trees. The street looks naked without those gorgeous trees.”

I would rather ‘watch my step’ on uneven sidewalks than walk down a street without the shade and beauty of those large trees.

. . Jessie Malecki, Letter in the Sunday Gazette,”Stop the senseless cutting of trees, especially in historic districts” (May 15, 2016)


from Jessie’s Facebook page

Jessie Malecki has lived in her Stockade house on North Street her entire life – more than 90 years. Earlier this month, the Gazette published another of her strong, insightful Letters to the Editor. Jessie’s topic this time was ending the unnecessary removal of our valuable street trees. At the top of this post are two salient quotes from the Letter, which is copied in full below and well worth your perusal.

Jessie mentioning the prior existence of large street trees on North Street sent me searching yesterday afternoon for old photos of the one-block, one-lane thoroughfare, which runs north from Front Street to Riverside Park, just east of Lawrence Circle. In my brief exploration, I was able to locate only one photo, at the Schenectady County Historical Society. It is shown immediately below, in a collage that features the March 1914 picture alongside a photo taken last week by me of the now “naked” North Street, looking north from mid-block. (Click on the collage for a larger version.)  As you can see, in 1914, flooding caused by ice jamming deposited ice floes and chunks well down the block. The angle is not optimal for viewing the curbside trees, but they clearly outnumber the current array, which is basically comprised of the species poleis-utilitus (utility poles).

I’m sorry I could not find more old photos from North Street. If you have one, especially with the tree fully foliated, please let me know.


. . above: 1914 photo courtesy of Schenectady County Historical Society . .

Jessie shared the March 1914 photo yesterday at her Facebook page, saying:

Thought people from my area would like to see North St. in 1914 (ten years earlier from my time – my house is the third down on the left) during the flooding, which in 8/28/2011 would be just about the 100 year flood.

In the 2016 photo, Jessie’s house is the 4th house on the left, with the orange awning. Please join Jessie voicing your well-reasoned opinions at the Gazette, or local news medium of your choice.

For more on our campaign to have a street tree preservation policy enacted in Schenectady, scroll down our web home page, and see our S.O.S. Trees portal.

Letters to the Editor (Schenectady Daily Gazette, Sunday, May 15, 2016)

Stop the senseless cutting of trees, especially in historic districts

Schenectady, and especially its historic districts, are fortunate to have so many large trees along our streets. Cutting them down when it is not necessary is a terrible waste that makes our city less beautiful, inviting and healthy.

Therefore, it is most important that a tree preservation policy be adopted and implemented for Schenectady so trees in the city’s right of way (between the curb and sidewalk, and in the medians) are preserved unless an individual tree is dead, dying or dangerous. That means alternatives to tree removal must be considered and employed, except where there is no viable alternative.

The Schenectady streets have many old beautiful trees which took years or centuries to grow. The city should not be able to remove them merely to repair a sidewalk and homeowners should not be able to have them removed for frivolous reasons.

There should be no excuse to cut down a healthy tree because it causes litter to the homeowner. Trees not only bring shade to our homes but beauty to our landscape.



 I remember many years ago when North Street had many beautiful large healthy trees that were cut down. The street has some small trees which will never replace the huge trees. The street looks naked without those gorgeous trees.

North Ferry Street was so beautiful with their large trees but they were all cut down to replace the sidewalks. Fortunately, St. George’s Church property has some gorgeous, huge trees.

Walking on Washington Avenue, it is a delight that the large trees were not eliminated because of the outcry of the residents there. I would rather “watch my step” on uneven sidewalks than walk down a street without the shade and beauty of those large trees.

Both the Historic District Commission and the Planning Commission may initiate a study or make recommendations for new policy, laws or regulations and it should do so, even if not specifically requested by the mayor or City Council.

If you would like to preserve our Schenectady trees, email Chuck Thorne at Cthorne@schenectadyny.gov and he will distribute your letter to the mayor and City Council on your behalf. Or write: Chuck Thorne, City Clerk at City Hall, Jay Street, Schenectady, NY. 12305.

Jessie Malecki


the day after Arbor Day


Arthur’s Market, site of the First S.O.S. Trees meeting, had been well-shaded prior to the 2008 N. Ferry “streetscape improvements.”

  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):


. . Share this posting with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/AfterArborDay

The three primary topics at the Meeting were:

  • the Need for a Tree Preservation Policy in Schenectady, as shown by:
    • Ferry-WashCompare-Apr2016the 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.



SJVCtreebenefits1 . . . TreeBenefitsSJV  ….

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. 


N. Ferry St., March 2016

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.



SizeExh  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.

NFerryTreeCollageThe 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:

. . 2007 . . NFerry1


.SOSTrees2 . . 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 . . 


ChillicotheExh 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.


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sidewalks vs. trees

SAVEOURHEALTHYOLDTREES. . S.O.S.Trees thanks the Schenectady Gazette opinion staff for printing “Save our healthy old trees” [pdf.] as a Guest Column, Sunday, April 24, 2016, D1.

In 2013, Saratoga Springs acknowledged in its Urban and Community Forest Master Plan that “Different People See Trees in Different Ways.” While many folks love and value urban trees greatly, the Spa City Master Plan notes that some residents “see city trees as more nuisance than asset,” messy, in the way, or simply “easily replaceable.” Our S.O.S. Trees campaign hopes to raise awareness of both the benefits of urban trees, especially our mature street trees, and the many alternatives available to removal of those trees when repairing or replacing sidewalks.

  • Below are other voices who agree that, in the case of Sidewalks vs. Trees, the balance of the evidence heavily favors trees. The defense “But, we’re fixing your sidewalk,” simply cannot justify the slaughter of street trees that are not dead, dying, or incurably dangerous.
  • Share this posting with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalksVsTrees

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 12.19.08 PM On June 25, 2010, in the editorial “Stockade sidewalk-about“: The Schenectady Gazette Opinion Editor wrote:

editorialG Whether it’s a dock, sidewalks or most anything else, residents of Schenectady’s Stockade tend to have strong opinions. And they were entirely right in condemning the city’s act of environmental vandalism two years ago when it chopped down some majestic old trees on North Ferry Street while repaving the street and redoing the sidewalks there. It was a major mistake, compounded by the fact that the city didn’t consult people in the neighborhood before doing it.

    But trees, whose roots have heaved some of the sidewalks on Washington Avenue, shouldn’t be left to residents to decide about keeping, or be responsible for. Even if it costs extra to reroute the sidewalk around large trees, as was done on Lowell Road in the GE Plot, that’s how it should be done and the city should pay for it. If rerouting isn’t possible, then the street should be repaved without redoing the sidewalk.

     And if it takes another year or two to work all this out, that’s OK. It takes a lot longer than that to grow a tree.

The City of Tacoma, Washington, declares its preference for saving trees on its Tree Removal webpage:

STREET TREE REMOVAL: for trees growing in the right-of-way, between the curb and sidewalk:

Tacoma’s urban forest is a valuable asset, and all trees on public property are protected. Trees provide increasing benefits as they grow, and mature trees are an asset that requires decades to replace. Tacoma carefully considers each and every request to remove a street tree, and encourages tree planting, regular tree maintenance, and alternatives to tree removal except where no viable alternative exists. Street trees can only be removed if they meet the criteria of being dead, dying, or dangerous. Conditions that do not warrant removal include the tree dropping fruit or leaves, the tree being perceived as too tall or making too much shade, or the cost of routine maintenance.

Saratoga Springs‘ proposed Tree Removal and Replacement provisions in its “Urban and Community Forest Master Plan” (at xxvi), adopted May 21, 2013, have a similar theme:

Tree Removal and Replacement

The Current process for tree removal involves the City taking action to remove dead or dying trees that pose a public safety risk or removing trees at the request of a landowner. This latter justification appears to happen as frequently for trees that pose a risk as it does for trees, which adjacent landowners wish to remove for personal reasons. Under the direction of the City arborist, the City will institute a policy and process of only removing trees that pose a risk to life or property as determined by a qualified arborist or forester.

SJVTREES Conflicts with Urban Infrastructure is an important topic in the “Tree Guidelines for San Joaquin Valley Communities” (Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education, 1999). The salient points made in the SVJ Report include (emphases added):

Dwindling budgets are forcing an increasing number of cities to shift the costs of sidewalk repair to residents. This shift especially impacts residents in older areas, where large trees have outgrown small sites and infrastructure has deteriorated.

According to the State of Urban Forestry in California report (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1993), the consequences of efforts to control these costs are having alarming effects on California’s urban forests:

Cities are continuing to “downsize” their urban forests by planting far more small-statured than large-statured trees. Although small trees are appropriate under power lines and in small planting sites, they are less effective than large trees at providing shade, absorbing air pollutants, and intercepting rainfall.

Sidewalk damage is the second most common reason that street and park trees are removed. We lose thousands of healthy urban trees and forgo their benefits each year because of [sidewalk damage].

Collectively, this is a lose-lose situation. Cost-effective strategies to retain benefits from large street trees while reducing costs associated with infrastructure conflicts are needed. Matching the growth characteristics of trees to conditions at the planting site is one strategy. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.13.24 AM The International Society of Arboriculture has taken a strong stand on the side of preserving trees, and for placing the responsibility on the municipality rather the property owner. For example, in its Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances (2001), ISA states:

4. Promote conservation of tree resources.

The benefits derived from the urban forest generally increase as tree size and canopy cover increase. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the community to protect its existing tree resources from loss or depletion. It is not possible to indefinitely preserve individual trees, since each tree will eventually die. However, it is possible to preserve both the urban forest and natural woodlands by restricting the indiscriminate removal of trees in all age classes, and by making provisions for natural or human-assisted regeneration. This embodies the concept of conservation.

19. Resolution of conflicts between trees and structures

Purpose: To set priorities for solving conflicts between trees and street improvements. Key elements:

●  Priority of trees over street improvements (hardscape)

●  Responsibility for approving corrective measures.

Notes: Tree-related damage to street improvements is common in many communities. Although tree roots are blamed for the cracking concrete and invading sewer lines, it is equally valid to point out that these structures fail because they have not been properly engineered to function in a landscape that contains growing trees and their roots. Unfortunately, the approach in too many cities has been to remove trees rather than to find a way to redesign structures to be compatible with trees. This provision can be used to establish the priority of trees over hardscape. Individual property owners normally do not have the resources or expertise to develop satisfactory solutions to tree- hardscape conflicts on their own. Therefore, the responsibility for correcting conflicts between trees and street improvements should not be assigned to the property owner. However, if the conflict results from actions by a property owner which violate municipal tree planting standards, the city may require the property owner to bear some or all of the cost of corrective action.

The ISA Tree Ordinance Guide presents two sample tree preservation provisions.

  • [from theSan Luis Obispo, CA: City Code Section 12.24.150]  A. When roots of a tree planted within the planting area damage city curbs, gutters and sidewalks (including driveway ramps), the city shall be responsible for appropriate corrective measures which are least damaging to the tree.
  • [a sample provision from the Guide’s authors] Where sidewalk or curb damage due to tree roots occurs, every effort shall be made to correct the problem without removing or damaging the tree. The city forester shall be responsible for developing or approving corrective measures in consultation with the city engineer.

The UMass Urban Trees FactsheetTREES AND SIDEWALKS, offers a useful perspective on approaching conflicts between them. The publication notes:

  • Trees often ruin sidewalks, and sidewalk repair often kills trees.
  • This conflict comes from the fact that sidewalks and trees have competing needs.
    • Trees need a soil that is moist and loose, and that they can push aside as they grow.
    • Sidewalks need to be smooth (but not flat) on a soil that will not shift with a load.
  • Trees and sidewalks are costly and valuable, so both needs must be taken seriously.

After advising “If a tree is in poor condition, it is best to remove the tree and replace the sidewalk”, the Trees FactSheet offers several alternatives for trees in good condition:

  • a sidewalk can be curved around the trunk (at least 2-3′).
  • In some cases, a raised edge can simply be ground down, or smoothed over with asphalt.
  • The new sidewalk may be ramped up and over the roots by starting further away.
  • You can also do minimal excavation, and then pour asphalt directly over the roots.
  • Gravel, mulch, pavers set in sand, or asphalt can be used instead of concrete.

ChillicothoCitySign Chillicothe, OH
 The publication “Trees and Sidewalks in Chillicothe” offers a refreshing combination of attitude and practicality. The historic first (and third) capital of Ohio (pop. approx. 20,000) begins its description of the problems and solutions by saying:

Sidewalks and trees aren’t hot topics unless there are conflicts with them. 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.

The essay continues:

“Causes of the Conflict between Trees and Sidewalks Trees receive most blame when sidewalks fail, but construction techniques, old age, inferior construction materials, unstable soil or even traffic patterns also contribute to sidewalk failure more often than acknowledged.

“Tree related sidewalk conflicts can be delineated into two types of damage requiring different responses.

 Sidewalk damage from trunk or root flare where the actual trunk or root flare of the tree lifts the sidewalk

 Sidewalk damage from lateral roots where a root emanating from the tree has caused damage to the sidewalk”

The Chillicothe guide’s section “Trees to Retain and Trees to Remove” makes clear the priority to be given to saving trees (emphasis added):

Street trees are community assets. They provide tangible benefits that contribute to the quality of life in any town. Street trees absorb air and water pollution. They abate noise pollution, they provide shade and energy conservation and even raise property values and decrease crime and illness. The value of trees varies according to tree age, size, species and health and structure. Typically bigger trees provide more benefits and are more valuable. The value of large tree decreases when there are infrastructure conflicts or structural defects that predispose a large tree to failure.

People often lose sight about two important aspects of community forestry.

Trees take decades or even centuries to get big.

Most large trees are not replaceable or renewable in the urban environment due to site constraints and other environmental and social factors.

Once they are gone, eighty years or more of growth and services is gone.

 In most towns, tree canopies are decreasing. Canopy loss translates into increased pollution, increase stormwater flooding, bigger carbon footprints, lower property values, and many other social, economic and environmental problems.

Trees to Retain….Trees to Remove and Replace

HIST.CHILLICOTHE Young trees are in a vegetative growth phase of life. During this phase, they are actively growing. This is when they will conflict with infrastructure. Once trees mature, they reach their genetic or environmental size and stop growing aggressively. Mature trees rarely do extensive damage to infrastructure. Usually the damage was done long ago when the tree was young and actively growing. In these situations, it is often best to retain the tree. In these situations, a properly repaired sidewalk will last a long time with minimal future damage from the mature tree.  . . .

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 to nearby trees. If the tree isn’t removed, this type of work can render a tree hazardous. Techniques like ramping, grinding and leveling are less expensive than redoing a sidewalk. These do not threaten nearby trees.

Sidewalk grinding: Sidewalk grinding is a temporary measure that restores the offset or heaved portion of a sidewalk to original grade.

Sidewalk cutouts: “Borrowing” space from the adjacent sidewalk creates sidewalk cutouts. This alternative minimizes the sidewalk width for a limited distance adjacent to the tree. Sidewalk meandering: Meandering—realigning the sidewalk’s direction of travel—allows for more growing space for trees in an aesthetically appealing way. The amount of growing space created can be substantial and, therefore, sidewalk meandering is usually the most feasible way to retain large, mature trees. Also, increased distance from sidewalk edge to lateral roots or trunk flare allows for root pruning, when necessary, to occur further from the trunk, which reduces direct contact between the sidewalk and tree roots or trunk. Sidewalk meandering often requires permission from the abutting property owner to dedicate more of their property to the public right-of-way.

Sidewalk ramping: Sidewalk ramping allows existing roots to remain intact by raising the base layer and repouring concrete over the roots to create a gradually sloped ramp. It is used when removal of roots would compromise the stability of a tree. Damaged sidewalk slabs are removed and 4-6 inches of topsoil is placed on top of the existing grade. Sand or gravel and a base layer or crushed limestone is placed adjacent or around the subject roots. A new sidewalk is then installed on top of this new base.

Leveling: Leveling is a technique where a hole is drilled through the sidewalk and silicone/concrete liquid is pumped underneath the slab to raise it. This is becoming a common technique to extend the service life of sidewalks.

Flexible paving materials: Flexible paving comes in many forms, which include: interlocking pavers, common brick and pavers and rubber (Dublin, Ohio uses rubber.) This is the most tree friendly of all the sidewalk repair options.

FHWAFHWA. Additionally, the Sidewalk Design Guidelines for accessibility under the The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), published by the Federal Highway Administration in 1999), do not mention removal among the options presented when tree roots cause sidewalk upheaval.

Chapter 4 –  4.3.2 Changes in levels

Changes in level are vertical elevation differences between adjacent surfaces. Changes in level are relatively common on sidewalks, particularly in residential areas.

Changes in level that currently exist should be addressed through a maintenance program. Whenever possible, the cause of the change in level should be removed. For example, if the cause of the change in level is an overgrown tree root, the sidewalk should be rerouted around the tree with additional right-of-way or ramp up and over the roots. (Section 4.4 contains information on how to plant trees so that they will not push up through the sidewalk.) If rerouting is not a viable solution, changes of level should be ramped to provide a smooth surface.

Alternatives to Tree Removal are discussed in many online webpages and articles. Here are links to a few examples. 

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why worry about our large street trees?

why not just remove them?

Our City Engineer, Chris Wallin, and his staff clearly want to do the best they can for the City of Schenectady, within financial and legal constraints, and directives from above. Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson spent a considerable amount of time a few weeks ago composing answers to my concerns over the removal of trees that were healthy (at least until affected by street or sidewalk construction). But, two points made by engineer Knutson leave me concerned that they are missing the Forest of Benefits due to the (potentially) Problematic Trees.

Peter wrote me on March 22, 2016, that he believes (emphasis added):

  1. My job with the city is to limit liability. Even if one in a thousand trees has the potential to become a liability, that would leave the city open to hundreds if not thousands of potential lawsuits with the hundreds of thousands of trees in the city right of way.  As I said, if a property owner wants to accept liability for a tree we can cross that bridge when/if it happens.  Until I am advised otherwise by corporation counsel, any tree that I feel had been impacted negatively by any construction will be removed.
  2. ” [Y]ou say that the little trees ruin the historic feel but if you give them 5-10 years they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.  It just takes time for the trees to grow and that’s why we wouldn’t do all the trees at the time but phase them in block by block (plus we don’t have the money to do all the streets in the Stockade at the same time).”

Both the focus on the nebulous potential liability for fallen trees and the faith in comparable results in the near future (or ever) seem misguided. The “costs” — aesthetic, social, economic, health and environmental — involved in removing large street trees is so great, and the impact of the smaller “location appropriate” trees over time so underwhelming, that I hope the City will undertake a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the effects of removing our old-growth street trees, and of the efficacy and cost of alternatives to such removal, before any new program of sidewalk repair is started. As I wrote six years ago, when the City wanted to remove all large trees along its Washington Avenue right-of-way in order to repair its sidewalks, “Schenectady needs a Tree Preservation Policy”.

The web presentation “Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas” (posted with graphics by Grants Pass, Oregon, with text by ColoradoTrees.org.) starts with this insight:

Trees are major capital assets in cities across the United States. Just as streets, sidewalks, public buildings and recreational facilities are a part of a community’s infrastructure, so are publicly owned trees. Trees — and, collectively, the urban forest — are important assets that require care and maintenance the same as other public property. Trees are on the job 24 hours every day working for all of us to improve our environment and quality of life.

For me, the two greatest benefits — sufficient in themselves to justify a tree preservation policy — are the beauty of large trees and the inviting and shielding shade they provide, especially in rows, groups and canopies. There is, of course, much more to admire about trees and justify their preservation and conservation.

According to the SVJ Tree Guidelines report (at 14), which is referenced above:

Trees provide a host of social, economic, and health benefits that should be included in any benefit-cost analysis. A 1992 survey of municipal tree programs in California found that the greatest benefits from their programs were

  1. increased public safety,
  2. increased attractiveness and commercial activity, and
  3. improved civic pride (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1993).
  4. Additional environmental benefits from trees include noise abatement and wildlife habitat.

The social, physical and psychological benefits provided by urban forests improve human well-being. . . . Humans can derive substantial pleasure from trees, whether it be feelings of relaxation, connection to nature, or religious joy (Dwyer et al. 1992). Trees provide important settings for recreation in and near cities. They also encourage people to walk, improving overall physical fitness. Research on the aesthetic quality of residential streets has shown that street trees are the single strongest positive influence on scenic quality.

On the practical side, directly relating to the above benefits, trees also bring financial benefits to property owners and local governments, according to the SVJ Report (at 15):

Research suggests that people are willing to pay 3-7% more for residential properties with ample tree resources versus few or no trees. One of the most comprehensive studies of the influence of trees on residential property values was based on actual sales prices for 844 single-family homes in Athens, Georgia (Anderson and Cordell 1988). Each large front-yard tree there was found to be associated with a nearly 1% increase in sales price ($336 in 1985 dollars). This increase in property value resulted in an estimated increase of $100,000 (1978 dollars) in the city’s property tax revenues. A much greater value of 9% ($15,000) was determined in a U.S. Tax Court case for the loss of a large black oak on a property valued at $164,500 (Neely 1988).

community group in the Sydney, Australia region concurs as to property values:

“Property values increase when there are visually beautiful street trees within view. . . .  If you want to immediately lower the value of your property, get the council to remove a large tree from outside your property.”

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N. Ferry St. then and now

NFerryCorner-Aug2007  . . NFerryCorner-Apr2016

— above: N. Ferry St., corner Green St at Lawrence Circle; [L] in Aug. 2007; [R] in April 2008

Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson listened to my concerns about losing our large street trees and substituting smaller ones of species considered to be appropriate for planting along urban streets, and to my preference for a policy that preserved the big old trees, unless they were dead, dying or dangerous. Peter assured me in an email on March 22 that:

“[Y]ou say that the little trees ruin the historic feel but if you give them 5-10 years they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.

He also said, concerning the notion of tree preservation: “For example, [on] N Ferry Street we removed 6-7 mature trees and installed 23.  While those trees may be small now they will grow and provide great shade and the historic feel you are looking for.  It will just take time.”  Is our City Engineer and his staff correct to say replacement trees can relatively quickly, with a little patience, give us the same “historic feel” as our old-growth street trees? Does this correspond to your streetscape experience and aesthetics, or merely to the standards of civil servants with marching orders from the Mayor’s office?

.. Compare the following collages (click on each for larger versions) ..

NORTH FERRY STREET – the summer before “streetscape improvement”:


NORTH FERRY STREET – April 2016, eight years after “streetscape improvements”:


Note: the only visible large trees, looking south from Lawrence Circle are the ones on the grounds of St. George’s Episcopal Church.

Photos can, of course, be made to lie, but I have attempted to show what N. Ferry Street looks like this week (shots taken April 20 & 22, 2016) from the same perspectives as the 2007 Google Street Views images in the top collage.

You can draw your own conclusions of comparable “historic” feel and other aesthetic standards before and eight years after the 2008 repaving of N. Ferry’s roadway and sidewalks.  ReTree Schenectady helped choose the replacement trees, using their customary guidelines for trees that will be along urban streets that have utility wires and small right-of-way areas between curb and sidewalks. My understanding is that those trees are not meant to ever be tall or wide, or to give a significant amount of shade.

. . . this collage combines the 2016 and 2007 images: NFerryCompareCollage


The Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education got it right in a 1999 report that stated (at 14):

Research on the aesthetic quality of residential streets has shown that street trees are the single strongest positive influence on scenic quality.

For  myself, simply from the aesthetic perspective, street tree preservation deserves to take precedence over sidewalk repair concerns and related fiscal restraints. That’s true, even before we consider the wonderful effects of shade on our desire to stroll and shop, and on our air conditioning bills and the battle against harmful sun rays. When the many other benefits of urban trees are also taken into account, the rush to embrace roadside clear-cutting in the name of sidewalk and streetscape improvement is very difficult for this non-engineer to understand.

If you agree, please actively support S.O.S.Trees and its campaign for a street tree preservation policy in Schenectady. Go to our Save Our Schenectady Trees portal page.

the No. Ferry St. version of “streetscape improvement”

Take a look at a 2007 Google Map Street View photo of North Ferry St. the year before it was repaved:

NFerry2007a . . .

Here’s the same view from the next Google Street View (2011), after the “streetscape improvement” deforestation of 2008:


The only shade tree survivors in view are not along the City’s right of way, but are (fortunately) located on the property of St. George’ Church.

StGeoTreesfollow-up: Unfortunately, the shade trees along the front fence at the entrance of St. George’s were removed, and others trimmed back significantly, in order to avoid any liability for fallen branches. Click on the thumbnail collage to the right for before and after comparisons.

According to a report in the March 2016 Stockade Spy (at 6), the Stockade Association’s Infrastructure Committee met with Schenectady City Engineer Chris Wallin and staff members on February 15, and:

City staff stated that the process used to improve the streetscape on Ferry Street was preferable to the one for Washington Avenue.

SOSTNoFerry How do the two approaches differ? The No. Ferry project took out all mature trees between the curb and sidewalk, it also replaced all sidewalks (regardless of their composition or condition). The Washington Avenue repaving spared the trees, leaving decisions about the sidewalks for future resolution. [To see more No. Ferry St. Deforestation, click on the collage to the right.]  Assistant City Engineer Pete Knutson confirmed the Office’s preference for the No. Ferry process in a series of emails with the editor of the weblog on March 22, 2016.

Which post-paving streetscape do you prefer?

No. Ferry Street [L] or Washington Avenue [middle and R]?

NFerry2011 . .  2CucNov-IMG_6519 . . CampbellRowTrees

.. with leaves, above ..

.. without leaves (in March 2016), below ..

NFerry-March1-DSCF1560 . . . WashAv18Mar2016

CampbellRowCollagefollow-up: The large street trees along 19 – 25 Washington Avenue, called Campbell Row, were taken down in 2018, at least two of them were healthy, but removed after consultation with the City Engineering Department, because roots had to be cut during sidewalk repair. Click on the thumbnail collage to the right to see before and after images.

The City Engineer and, obviously, our Mayor Gary McCarthy, prefer to clearcut the trees in the City’s right of way to avoid any (tenuous) future liability should a tree which remains after losing some of its root system topple many years later. What is it worth in dollars, environmental, social, and economic benefits, civic pride, and aesthetic pleasure for residents, visitors, and tourists, to save our street trees?  Shouldn’t we take the time to seriously consider the options available to us other than virtual clear-cutting, before needlessly taking down a tree that is not dead, dying, or dangerous, in the name of “streetscape improvement” or liability avoidance?

Improved? Here is the 2007 Google Street View pre-improvements, looking south mid-block on N. Ferry St.[L], and the view in mid-April 2016, after 8 years of new-tree growth [R]:

Screen shot 2016-03-21 at 9.45.53 PM .. NFerry-DSCF1706

S.O.S.Trees, the Save Our Schenectady Trees campaign, is being launched this month, in response to the City Engineer’s revival of a method we thought we had beat back for good in 2010. For more information and links to photos, click on the Save Our Trees tab in our masthead.

checkedboxs And, please come to the S.O.S. Trees information and organizing Meeting, at Arthur’s Market, Noon on Saturday, April 30th.  

Mtg30Apr2016e Click for a printable copy of our Meeting Announcement

..share this post with this shorter URLhttp://tinyurl.com/FERRYSTvsWASHAV

stockadeathonimg_6774-002 . . .   p.s. To the left is another view of what Washington Avenue looked like a few weeks after it was repaved in 2014, looking north toward the River from Cucumber Alley, with its trees spared and sidewalks untouched:

farewell to a fine tree

– stump created Oct. 20, 2010 at 33 Front St.

. . . 

– Devin watches a City crew trim the tree in front of 33 Front St. on October 14, 2010 –

[as always click on a photo for a larger version and scroll over it for a description]

Little did Devin and I know last week (October 14) when we watched a crew trimming the locust tree in front of 33 Front Street that it was being groomed for an execution six days later.

. . . or, did Devin know better than I? . . .

. . . that this would be the scene when we stopped by one week later (Oct. 21):

— Nothing to block our view of Lawrence with the ill-fated tree gone —

When I heard on Wednesday afternoon that the mature, healthy-looking shade tree in front of Nancy and Fred Jonas’ home had been chopped down earlier that day, I made a quick stop to see the (irrevocable) carnage and take a few photos.

– tree stump with sawdust in front of 33 Front St. the day the tree was chopped down –

– from stump

. . .

. .  to trunk to top (taken Oct. 14) that tree sure looked healthy –

As you can see, however, the roots of the tree had disrupted the adjacent sidewalk.

Was the tree ill despite its apparent good health? No. Was the buckled sidewalk enough to seal its fate?  Did the tree offend someone in some other way?  Was every alternative adequately considered before permission was given and the decision was made to remove the tree? I later learned that it was the inconvenience of dealing with the various leaves, twigs, and similar droppings, that made the owners want it removed.

  • By the Way: Within a few years, the Jonases had moved away. The day I met the new owners at their front stoop, they said they wondered why all the other houses had a tree in front of them on their block, but their house did not. Don’t get me started.

As the masthead above suggests, I think we should do all we can to preserve every healthy tree in the Stockade .  More than ever, I  believe — as argued in a posting on June 18, 2010 — that “Schenectady needs a tree preservation policy.”

The City of Portland, Oregon got it right on its Parks and Recreation webpage (emphasis added):

STREET TREE REMOVAL: for trees growing in the right-of-way, between the curb and sidewalk:

Portland’s urban forest is a valuable asset, and all trees on public property are protected. Trees provide increasing benefits as they grow, and mature trees are an asset that requires decades to replace. Urban Forestry carefully considers each and every request to remove a street tree, and encourages tree planting, regular tree maintenance, and alternatives to tree removal except where no viable alternative exists. Street trees can only be removed if they meet the criteria of being dead, dying, or dangerous. Conditions that do not warrant removal include the tree dropping fruit or leaves, the tree being perceived as too tall or making too much shade, or the cost of routine maintenance.

What do you think?  I hope Devin will be around to benefit from the beauty, shade and other attributes of the tiny tree that is purportedly going to be planted to replace the mature one felled this week.  I fear that neither I, nor the rest of my Baby Boom generation neighbors, or our elders, will be so lucky, especially since the replacement trees are not actually meant to be tall enough to reach true shade tree status.

[Follow-up: the Jonases had the stump quickly removed and then had a new sidewalk poured over the spot. No replacement new tree was planted. update: Still no replacement tree, March 20, 2016.]  Please tell our local leaders that we need a tree preservation policy in Schenectady — especially for the Stockade and other historic districts.

follow-up (October 26, 2010):  Thanks to Tom Hodgkins of N. Ferry St., I can present a more complete image of the felled locust tree:

Here are two other photos captured from 2007 Google Street Views:

33Front-Google2007a . . . 33Front-Google2007

That locust tree was responsible for creating some great shadows on the sunny day we had a month before its demise, at the 2010 Outdoor Art Show:

 follow-up: By the September 2013 Outdoor Art Show, the magic of shadow and light was long gone. More tragic, 33 Front Street was For Sale, meaning that the tree died to save a few years of sidewalk raking and perhaps gutter cleaning. Incidentally, the new owners, not knowing my past interest in that tree, asked me the day I met them on their front stoop why that house had no tree, when the pattern suggested that each house would have one. I think my reply might have been “Don’t get me started.”


– above: Kathy Mindel’s exhibit, September 2013, at 33 Front Street  

Gazette again roots for Stockade trees

In an editorial titled “Stockade side-walk about” the Schenectady Daily Gazette has once again called for saving the Stockade’s trees, even if it means not repaving some of its sidewalks — and even if it takes a year or two to hammer out the details with Stockade residents.  (June 25, 2010)   See our prior posting “The Gazette favors trees over sidewalks,” April 17, 2010, reporting on that day’s Gazette editorial.

Today’s editorial says Stockade residents:

“were entirely right in condemning the city’s act of environmental vandalism two years ago when it chopped down some majestic old trees on North Ferry Street while repaving the street and redoing the sidewalks there. It was a major mistake, compounded by the fact that the city didn’t consult people in the neighborhood before doing it.”

[See our posting of June 18, 2010 (with numerous photos) covering a recent Gazette news article blaming No. Ferry St. lessons for a delay in repaving Washington Ave.]

The editorial also notes that the City “messed up” on No. Front Street when it did not enter into contracts with every property owner and did not collect from all of those who had extras like brick or bluestone installed during the sidewalk repaving.  It quotes General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen saying he won’t start the sidewalk work  until he has signed contracts and money up-front from residents on Washington Ave.

Like the proprietor of this weblog (prior post), the Gazette asserts that the fate of the trees on Washington Avenue — even those “whose roots have heaved some of the sidewalks” — “shouldn’t be left to residents to decide about keeping, or be responsible for.”   The editorial concludes:

“Even if it costs extra to reroute the sidewalk around large trees, as was done on Lowell Road in the GE Plot, that’s how it should be done and the city should pay for it. If rerouting isn’t possible, then the street should be repaved without redoing the sidewalk.

“And if it takes another year or two to work all this out, that’s OK. It takes a lot longer than that to grow a tree.”

Many thanks to the Gazette opinion staff.

Schenectady needs a tree preservation policy [with updates]

NFerry-March2016 Note: This posting was updated in early April, 2016, because the Office of the Schenectady City Engineer has apparently revived a plan that would result in removing virtually all mature trees from the City’s right-of-way (between sidewalk and curb) when replacing sidewalks, regardless of the health and stature of a particular tree, as it did on North Ferry Street in 2008.  [see photo to the right] When the issue first came up in 2010, in the context of repaving Washington Avenue in the Stockade, a combination of resident opposition and strong Gazette editorials (described and linked here and hereprevented the unwarranted attack on a valuable portion of our urban forest and the beauty and history it embodies. But, individual healthy trees have been removed since then on Washington Avenue at the recommendation of the Engineering Office as part of sidewalk replacements. And no less than our County Historical Society removed two healthy trees along its streetscape because, I have been told, they required too much raking, and in order to see the building more easily.

  • The preference of the Engineer’s Office for the North Ferry Street process was defended and clarified in a series of emails, on March 22, 2016, between the author of this posting and the assistant civil engineer responsible for sidewalk issues in the Office.  Fear of liability due to a tree being weakened by root trimming or damage during repaving or repair was given as the primary reason for the tree removal policy. And, see “Update from Infrastructure Committee,” Stockade Spy, March 2016, at 6.
  • update: The May 2018 Stockade Spy, at 2after discussion with City Engineers, reported this exaggerated warning: “Once a tree root begins to interfere with sidewalks, little can be done. When the roots are cut to level the sidewalk, the tree nearly always fails within a few years.” follow-upWhen asked about the soundness of the quote just given, Fred Breglia, arborist for the Landis Arboretum sent this diplomatic response, in an email on March 28, 2019):
    • Breglia01

      Fred Breglia

      Based on my experience, it is a case by case situation. It varies greatly based on species, age, time of year, health, root conditions, type of care/finesse used by the company. These are just some of the factors that can contribute to the end result. Trees are living things and just like a human undergoing surgery, the way the person will bounce back from the process cannot be determined prior to the event when things may vary during the event.

      One suggestion is to have an arborist available or on call to watch over the process as it occurs.
  • SaveHealthyOldTreesfollow-up (March 12, 2019): Passage of the City’s new Sidewalk Assessment District resolution, which promotes fixing sidewalks with City-owner involvement a block at a time, again raises concerns of losing many street shade trees under the City Engineer’s root-cutting criteria. (See Times Union article, March 12, 2019). John Polimeni, the Council member most involved with the Sidewalk Assessment District plan, has stated that it is up to the Engineering Department whether trees are saved or removed.


Like a zombie with a chainsaw, the issue of needless deforestation has returned to threaten one of our most treasured Schenectady resources, its existing urban forest, with scores of fine street tree arrays and canopies that are the envy of many other cities.  More than ever, those who know the environmental, aesthetic, social, economic, and historic value of our irreplaceable “old” urban forest need to come together to shape and achieve passage and implementation of a Tree Preservation Policy for Schenectady, with street trees removed only if dead, dying or dangerous. Our efforts should be nonpartisan and span all segments of our community. Our success will be felt & appreciated for generations; our failure to act will leave us all immeasurably poorer. [For the web portal to Save Our Schenectady Trees see  http://tinyurl.com/SOStrees ]

  • SOSTFrontSt There are photo collages showing the effects of the existing deforestation policy and what we have to lose if we let it continue on other streets, in the first two Appendices at the end of this posting. Views of other street scenes from around the City will soon be added.


Original Posting, with updates:

The City of Schenectady’s skimpy reply to a Freedom of Information [FOIL] request that I submitted on April 15, 2010, concerning the repaving of Washington Avenue and the effects on its trees, was telling. It demonstrated that Schenectady has no general rules or guidelines concerning the preservation of trees that are affected by the actions of a City agency, or of private persons fulfilling a City contract. Similarly, there are no rules with regard to the impact on the City’s historic districts, where even minor changes in building façades or street scenes are usually banned when other reasonable alternatives exist. [Click here to see the text of my FOIL request and discussion of the City’s response.]

Not only are there no laws on the books, the preservation of our valuable mature trees is not mentioned in the Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020, which repeats (at 86 of the Community Profile section) the recommendations made in the 2003 Tree Master Plan for the City of Schenectady.  The Tree Master Plan was commissioned by ReTree Schenectady, which is “dedicated to the planting, care, and conservation of current and future generations of trees in the City of Schenectady.”  Nonetheless, preservation of existing trees is not among the eight recommendations identified in the Master Plan. One of the recommendations is, however, to “Remove or trim older trees in poor condition.”

. . . . .

– above is the endangered tree canopy of Washington Avenue; our website’s original Masthead showed the equally endangered trees at the west end of Front St. —

    This is a strange situation for a City which is so proud of its Historic Districts (especially the Stockade) and of it’s designation as a Tree City, USA, and which has so much to lose if it practices thoughtless or inadvertent deforestation.  In the June 18, 2010, Schenectady Gazette, then-Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said he expected the planning that was delaying repaving [negotiation with Washington Ave. residents on saving our trees] would be useful for further historic district paving projects, and he wants the residents to be pleased with the end result.  See our post, “No. Ferry St. lessons said to cause repaving delays” (June 18, 2010), which has photos of No. Ferry street stripped of its mature shade trees; and the Schenectady Gazette article  “Sidewalk talks delay paving of Washington Avenue in Schenectady”  (by Kathleen Moore, June 18, 2010; subscription needed for access).

. . .

– No. Ferry St. stripped of its mature trees due to repaving (2010) –

    When this post was originally written, in June 2010, we did not know that Mayor Gary McCarthy would stall repaving the Stockade section of Washington Avenue until a week or so before the Stockade-athon Race ran the full length of that street for the first time, in November 2014. The sidewalks were and remain untouched by the City. Thus, the six years since then-Commissioner Olsen voiced optimism about achieving a result pleasing to historic district residents clearly did not produce a better process than the one rejected by the community in 2010. Instead, in early 2016, we again face the threat of North-Ferry-like “clearcutting” of mature trees in the right-of-way between curb and sidewalk (leaving existing small, unthreatening replacement trees in place, and replacing the mature trees with similar “appropriate” trees). Furthermore, eight years after “appropriate” species of trees were planted as substitutes for the felled trees on No. Ferry, it is clear that the new trees will never bring the aesthetic and practical benefits of mature shade trees.

Rather than achieving a better process that might salvage a large part of our streetscape urban forest, the City has brought back the specter of blocks stripped of healthy shade trees, with homely tangles of utility wires made ever more apparent, and residents, strollers and cafe diners seeking relief from unfiltered sunlight. Adding to our concern is the fact that the very people we would expect to lead the search and fight for better policy choices in our historic district, the leaders of the Stockade Association [SA], appear to be acquiescing in the tree removal policy, and even abetting tree removal by starting a sidewalk condition survey. [See “Update from Infrastructure Committee,” Stockade Spy, March 2016, at 6, for discussion of sidewalk issues, such as the preference of the Engineer’s Office for the No. Ferry Street process, and the Association leaders’ apparent acceptance.] The SA sidewalk survey is taking place despite the City Engineer cautioning that if they receive direct information about particular sidewalks needing repair or replacement, they will be forced to issue citations requiring immediate correction of the problem by the property owner.

In 2010, this webpost called for “study, consideration and creation of an explicit policy on preserving our mature trees — by passing legislation, promulgating regulations, and/or issuing an executive order.” And, we noted that “Many other wise counties, cities, towns and historic district commissions have already done so.” Currently (April 2016), the City Administration is suggesting there is no urgency, because it has no budget for sidewalk repairs (despite all the bragging about large influxes of casino-related revenues). This fiscal situation could change at any time, but may nonetheless give concerned citizens time to put together a coalition supporting a Tree Preservation Policy for Schenectady.

 HISTORIC DISTRICTS: Although a tree-preservation policy is needed for the City’s entire urban forest, it is especially appropriate and necessary for its historic districts.  The City’s Zoning Law, Article VIII of Chapter 264 of the Schenectady Code, gives as the purpose of our Historic District legislation to (among other things, with emphases added):

▪    Safeguard the heritage of the City of Schenectady by preserving resources in the city that represent or reflect elements of its cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history.
▪    Protect and enhance the attractiveness of such historic resources to home buyers, visitors, shoppers and residents and thereby provide economic benefits to the city and its citizens.
▪    Conserve and improve the value of property within Historic Districts.
▪    Foster, encourage and advise the preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of structures, areas and neighborhoods.
▪    Promote the use of Historic Districts for the education, enjoyment and welfare of the citizens of the city.
▪    Foster civic pride in the beauty and history of the past as represented in the Historic Districts.

A tree preservation policy can help achieve many of the City’s Historic preservation goals.  As seen in excerpts from our Municipal Code, §264-74(B), printed below as Appendix Five, the Schenectady Historic Commission has the power to investigate and report upon matters before the City boards and departments, and to undertake surveys and studies, and make resultant proposals for regulations and special conditions and restrictions, “as may be appropriate to serve the purposes of this article.” Importantly, to assist the Commission, it may “may retain such specialists, consultants or experts to aid in its duties and to pay for their services and call upon available City staff for technical advice.” It is our hope that the members of the Historic Commission, with assistance from the staff of the planning and Engineering departments, will play an important role formulating, advocating and eventually implementing a Tree Preservation Policy for our City’s historic districts, with any such policy serving as a model for a City-wide tree preservation policy.

As the City of Tacoma, Washington, states on its Tree Removal webpage:

STREET TREE REMOVAL: for trees growing in the right-of-way, between the curb and sidewalk:

Tacoma’s urban forest is a valuable asset, and all trees on public property are protected. Trees provide increasing benefits as they grow, and mature trees are an asset that requires decades to replace. Tacoma carefully considers each and every request to remove a street tree, and encourages tree planting, regular tree maintenance, and alternatives to tree removal except where no viable alternative exists. Street trees can only be removed if they meet the criteria of being dead, dying, or dangerous. Conditions that do not warrant removal include the tree dropping fruit or leaves, the tree being perceived as too tall or making too much shade, or the cost of routine maintenance.


The City of Portland, Oregon, also has a multi-faceted Urban Forestry mission, including a program to designate protected Heritage Trees, special protection for trees in a number of over-lay historic districts, such as King’s Hill, and provisions to allow a ramp to be built when the grade of the sidewalk is elevated over existing roots that cannot be cut and removed (see p. 10 – 11). A Portland Street Removal brochure explained:

Benefits of the Urban Forest

Portland’s urban forest is a valuable functional and aesthetic asset that is vital to the livability of our community.  . . . Trees soften and beautify the city landscape, offer habitat for wildlife, and provide essential ecosystem services such as capturing runoff, removing air pollutants and CO2, dampening noise, and modifying temperature extremes. The regular care and maintenance required by urban trees is a small investment relative to the large returns they provide – for publicly owned trees, less than $1 invested returns over $3 in benefits.

A City interested in attracting visitors to its historic districts (or business section) should also pay attention to the Clarksburg Historic District  [Montgomery County, Maryland] Streetscape Concepts Study (at 26, sec. 2.7). It makes this (obvious but often ignored) statement:

“Street trees and landscaping can greatly enhance the appearance of a streetscape. They can also provide shade and greenery that makes a place more walkable and inviting for pedestrians.”

– Similar points are made at the Colorado Trees organization’s website, in the piece “Urban Forests Can Improve Economic Sustainability”, which notes that trees attract customers and tourists and cause them to linger longer.  It also makes this broader point:

“The scope and condition of a community’s trees and, collectively, its urban forest, is usually the first impression a community projects to its visitors. A community’s urban forest is an extension of its pride and community spirit.”

As for property values, a community group in the Sydney, Australia region notes:

“Property values increase when there are visually beautiful street trees within view. . . .  If you want to immediately lower the value of your property, get the council to remove a large tree from outside your property.”

Furthermore, TreeLink: The Urban Forestry Resource is a comprehensive source for information and studies about urban trees.  It cites U.S. Forestry Service studies which have found:

  • A tree can return up to $2.70 for each $1 of community investment;
  • healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property’s value; and,
  • nationally, the 60 million street trees have an average value of $525 per tree.

For the above reasons, and many others, the City of Los Angeles, CA, announced that “appropriate planning, planting and maintenance of Street Trees provide the residence of the City economic, social, environmental, ecological and aesthetic benefits.”  Its City Council therefore concluded that a uniform policy on the maintenance and enhancement of Street Trees is necessary, and (among other things), it:

RESOLVED that the City Council directs City Departments to review their relevant documents and procedures with regards to these Street Tree Policies, to incorporate these Policies into planning, operations, and permitting decisions, and to arrange presentations of the Department’s revisions affecting Street Trees to the Board of Public Works within six months.

According to Operation STOMP, in the first six years of its Healthy Trees, Smooth Sidewalks program, the City of Los Angeles “repaired more than 400 miles of sidewalks, preserving more than 52,000 trees that would have been removed otherwise.”

The City of Schenectady needs such a uniform policy regarding the preservation of healthy mature trees.  The policy should cover its own departments and contractors, as well as private citizens and property owners, and should insist that, unless a tree is dead, dying or dangerous, alternatives to tree removal must be fully considered and employed, except where no viable alternative exists.

Note: Los Angeles and other cities, citizens’ groups, and academics, have looked into the issue of saving trees that are causing the disturbance of sidewalks. There clearly are many alternatives that must be considered before taking down healthy trees. [update: See our posting “sidewalks vs. trees” (April 24, 2016)]

For example, see:

  • The City of Los Angeles has instituted special restrictions against the removal of any tree in specified Cultural Heritage Locations (including the requirement of a public hearing with regard to each designated tree), and also designates “street trees of significance,” stating that “The trees may be of importance due to their size, species, appearance, growth habits, flowers, or a combination of these characteristics. The City should be proud of these trees and the flavor and character that it provides to the neighborhoods in which they are planted.”
  • SJVTREES Tree Guidelines for San Joaquin Valley Communities (March 1999) This excellent,  comprehensive study is excerpted at length in our posting “why worry about our large street trees“, and in “sidewalks vs. trees“.
  • Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), a nonprofit organization in Washington State, provides a very useful resource on its website, reproducing the monograph “Sidewalk and Roots: Mitigating the Conflict—An Overview” by Gordon Mann of Auburn, California, which states: “[W]henever possible, we try to retain the existing larger trees while making a repair or create better space for larger trees in the future,” and goes on to present descriptions of alternative and innovative solutions to tree removal, mentioning the advantages and disadvantages of each process or material.
  • Springfield, Oregon, Street Trees Policy (Engineering Design Manual, Sec. 6.02.1 Existing Tree) The Policy requires the use of Best Management Practices “to save existing trees” and to minimize the stress of construction and repaving on trees.  For example, two BMPs that must be used are: A. During initial planning phases of street design, determine which trees should be saved. If 2/3 of the root system can be protected from construction, the tree shall be considered for saving. And, ” F. Design[ing] sidewalks of variable width, elevation, and direction to help save an existing tree.” The Springfield Street Tree Policy declares that “The trees saved should be an asset to the neighborhood before and after street construction.”
  • OperationStompLogo.pngwr - Operation Stomp and Save Our Nassau County Trees – “A community-based, grassroots organization [with 1400 members] based in Long Island, New York, dedicated to preserving the thousands of trees presently unprotected and at-risk lining countless County and Local Roads throughout Nassau County.” See their Fact Sheet, including a “green” Sidewalk Repair Methods page, and a Video. Contact Information: (516) 730-7619 | OperationSTOMP@gmail.com
  • Also see, e.g., Terrecon’s Rubbersidewalks; a similar product at Rubberway; and “New Rubber Sidewalks Tested in 60 Cities” (NPR, August 4, 2006).

Conclusion: As the cursory survey above shows, there are many models available to our city and community leaders, the Historic Preservation Commission,  property owners and other residents, as the City studies the issues, gathers facts and opinions, and promulgates a tree preservation policy and related laws.  This process, therefore, could take months, not years, and should be used to protect our healthy trees before ill-conceived deforestation causes literally irreparable damage. In the meantime, I hope a Deforestation Moratorium will be put in place voluntarily by the Mayor or through City Council action.

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No. Ferry St. lessons said to cause repaving delays

. . . No. Ferry St. in the Schenectady Stockade looking north toward the Lawrence Circle showing repaving deforestation-18Jun2010

– No. Ferry St. stripped of its mature trees due to repaving –

The Schenectady Gazette has an article today on the delay in paving Washington Ave.  “Sidewalk talks delay paving of Washington Avenue in Schenectady” [must subscribe, register for access to article], by Kathleen Moore.  Lessons learned from the re-paving of No. Ferry St. are given as the reason for the delay:

1) Some residents did not pay for upgrades to their sidewalks last time, so Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen says “he’s going to have everything planned — and all contracts signed — before construction season.”

2) Residents of Washington Ave. do not like the look of No. Ferry St., with its shade trees removed, and do not want the same thing to happen on their street. Thus,  thus months of negotiations will be needed, as “residents and city officials are talking about rerouting the sidewalk around big trees, or simply paving the street without redoing the sidewalks.”

. . . . 

– Washington Ave. residents don’t want their shady block (l) to look like No Ferry St. (r) –

SOSTNoFerry follow-up (April 4, 2016): Click on the image to the left to see our collage No. Ferry St. Deforestation, a set of before and after photos.

According to the Gazette, “[Olsen] expects the planning will be useful for further historic district paving projects, and he wants the residents to be pleased with the end result.”  As I will argue in an upcoming posting, Schenectady badly needs a policy governing the treatment of existing trees when the City repaves or takes other actions.  follow-up (Noon, June 18, 2010): See our posting “Schenectady Needs a Tree Preservation Policy.”

update (June 25, 2010): See our posting “Gazette again roots for Stockade trees.”

. . . p.s. If the grand trees in front of St. George’s Church on No. Ferry St. had been alongside the curb and not a few feet away on the Church’s front lawn, they would also have been removed.

tree reprieve: repaving delayed until 2011

There have been rumors the past couple of weeks that the re-paving of Washington Avenue would be delayed until next year —  for reasons not specified, but causing much speculation.   Gloria Kishton (the Chair of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation and a member of the Stockade Association Board) has been acting as a liaison with the City of Schenectady concerning the repaving.   Today, Gloria sent an email to Washington Avenue owners and residents, which stated in part:

“We have confirmation that the City is not paving Washington Ave. this season, but does intend to do the project next year (2011). This information is from Carl Olsen, Commissioner of General Services, who oversees paving projects for the City.

“Although disappointing, postponement affords more time for planning which should result in a better project. . . .

” . . .  What’s next: We will be setting up a meeting with the City for the purpose of starting a dialogue about the project. We are optimistic that this will lead to an exchange of ideas and solutions that will address the issues you all raised at the April 18 neighbor meeting, while also taking into account the needs of the City.”

Gloria also informed us that an arborist who took an informal look at the Washington Avenue trees concluded that many of them would not withstand the root loss that would result if the City were to dig up the road bed, curbs, & existing sidewalks and medians.  Gloria suggests Googling sidewalk and trees to find out more about the problem of tree roots impacting sidewalks.  For example, see this  L.A. case study.

The editor of this weblog recommends that you also take a look at the web materials and brochure from the City of New York ‘s Trees & Sidewalks Program, which was established to help “homeowners repair sidewalks damaged by curbside trees while minimizing the impact of the sidewalk repair to the tree.”

update (June 18, 2010):  See our post, “No. Ferry St. lessons said to cause repaving delays,” about today’s Schenectady Gazette article  “Sidewalk talks delay paving of Washington Avenue in Schenectady” [must subscribe, register for access to article], by Kathleen Moore.

Washington Ave. homeowners want to save the trees

Fifteen property owners and residents of Washington Avenue met last night (Sunday, April 18) at the home of Bob and Sylvie Briber to discuss the repaving of the street. I am very happy to report that there was a quick consensus among the group that we attempt to save as many trees as possible.  The group also agreed to bring in a private arborist to help evaluate the trees.

Gloria Kishton, President of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, chaired the meeting (quite ably), and the Foundation’s Vice President, Rob Petito, acted as the conscientious scribe.   Gloria and Jack MacDonald are jointly serving as intermediaries between the City Engineering Department and Washington Avenue property owners on the repaving project. Jack, a civil engineer familiar with the City’s procedures with construction projects, gave information on the project’s history and processes.

Despite the rather surprising consensus on the trees and other issues, I will admit that there was not complete agreement over whether the glorious box elm tree pictured at the head of this paragraph is a “good tree” worthy of being saved.  By now, you know my opinion on saving that glorious woody plant.

the Gazette favors trees over sidewalks

Following up on yesterday’s initial report on the tree v. sidewalk debate [“Stockade residents: Save trees over walks,” Daily Gazette, by Kathleen Moore, April 15, 2010; link (subscription req’d)], the lead editorial in today’s Schenectady Gazette comes down strongly in favor of saving trees rather than repairing sidewalks.  (“Editorial: Schenectady should spare trees, spoil sidewalks, April 17, 2010; subscriber link)  We couldn’t have hoped for a better editorial.  Here are a few excerpts:

  • “As important as good sidewalks are to an urban streetscape, trees are more so. At least in a historic neighborhood like Schenectady’s Stockade.”
  • “there’s vigorous opposition to the plan, and city officials can’t pretend otherwise.”
  • “[City officials] They need to listen. It is possible to constrict or reroute sidewalks around the trees, as was done on Lowell Road, in another of the city’s historic neighborhoods, last fall. And if that simply can’t be done, then patch as effectively as possible or don’t do anything.”

follow-up (June 25, 2010): See our posting “Gazette again roots for Stockade trees.”

please help save our Washington Ave. shade trees

As discussed below, the City of Schenectady plans to remove the large Washington Avenue trees that are pictured in this posting, while repaving the street and repairing the sidewalks this Spring or Summer (only the new, small, decorative trees would be left).

Click on a photo for a larger version and scroll over it for a description.

– scene on Washington Ave. showing endangered trees during the 2009 Stockade-athon –

. . . . . . . .   

– trees on Washington Avenue in early April 2010 –

update: (April 15, 2010): Early this afternoon, I filed a Freedom of Information Request [FOIL], supplemented with a second Request around 4 PM, at City Hall concerning the repaving and repair of the street and sidewalks of Washington Ave. Go below the fold at the end of this posting for the wording of the FOIL request and the City’s response.

About ten days ago, at a meeting of Washington Avenue owners and residents with the City’s chief engineer, I first learned that the City of Schenectady’s engineering department was planning to remove all large trees located between the sidewalk and curb on Washington Avenue, as part of a project to repave the street and repair the sidewalks.  The trees would come down whether they were healthy or not, despite the condition of the adjoining sidewalk, as all sidewalks would be taken up and replaced regardless of their condition.   Short of fire-bombing or similar criminal or terrorist acts, nothing more drastic could be done to alter the beauty and ambiance of any neighborhood than taking down its shade trees, especially where there are sufficient trees to form a canopy over the street.  It seems especially irresponsible to perpetrate such urban deforestation in an historic district that has special protection against any change in the appearance of its streetscape.

Stockadians and lovers of the neighborhood, please pause to consider what has already happened on No. Ferry Street (for sample photos click).  Now, keep in mind that the City plans to go block by block throughout the Stockade with this paving and repairing project.  We need to change the policy before more trees are needlessly removed.

Also, note: The current plan of the Engineering Department is to remove all sidewalks, to be replaced with either tinted concrete or — at he homeowner’s request and expense — the anemic bluestone that can be seen on No. Ferry St. (at the Widow Kendall house, for example).   Existing slate will not be put back once regrading is done.  Preserving slate sidewalks is another very good reason (beyond saving trees) to ask the City to consider each stretch of sidewalk separately.

My hope is that the City will, instead — like many municipalities around the nation and world — consider all alternatives and make every reasonable effort to preserve every healthy tree.   We were told on Thursday April 1st that the requests for bids would go out in a week or two.   The City should halt the project before bids are requested, and ask the Schenectady Historic District Commission to study and make proposals about the preservation of trees (especially related to actions by the City).  I believe the Stockade Association should be on record urging the City to make every effort to preserve healthy mature trees. The Commission may initiate a study or make recommendations for new policy, laws or regulation, and it should do so, if not specifically requested by the City.

Here’s another shot taken near Front Street on Washington Avenue during the2009  Stockade-athon.  Imagine the scene without the trees:

. . Stockade-athon 2009 . . .

After saying it was impossible to keep any tree along the street due to safety and liability problems once the roots on both sides of the trees were removed for the repaving, the engineering department representative said — rather halfheartedly — that any owner who wants to try to keep his try should let him know, so he could “see what we can do.”

Is this box elder ..  . . . too ugly to live? . . .

Instead of jumping at the chance to keep his tree, the owner of the above unique, glorious and healthy tree (seen in several shots in this posting) said he was glad to have it taken down because it was ugly.  [Box elders, formally named acer negundo, is also called a maple ash.] Other owners in that row also said they would not mind having the tree taken down in front of their houses — one because it put leaves on his roof and in his gutter, and another because its branches touched the house, and it was not a very grand tree.  Of course, Historic District homeowners can’t take a shutter off the front of their homes without getting permission.   Yet, the homeowners were willing to have a large mature, healthy tree removed forever for some rather underwhelming or frivolous reasons.  Their say is apparently final according to the head of the repaving project.  The fate of these trees should clearly not be up to a single property owner.  The interests of the entire block and the whole Stockade District (perhaps with input from the Historic District Commission) must be given great weight.

One option the City has is to not take up sidewalks that do not require repair or replacement for safety reasons; another is to do less drastic root removal at sites where the sidewalk can be leveled without major root removal.  Take a look at the sidewalk along this stretch of Washington Avenue and consider whether such options might be viable in order to save a healthy tree:

. .  . .

The City is certain to claim fiscal reasons for asking construction crews to merely plow up all the sidewalks and mow down all the trees.  Of course, that assumes it’s is cheaper to do the blunderbuss approach, taking up all the sidewalks, rather than leaving significant stretches of sidewalk alone because they do not need drastic repair or because a moderately-needed repair is simply not a good enough reason to take down a mature shade tree.   More to the point in an historic district: an added expense in order to preserve an important structure, place or streetscape is considered a small price to pay to maintain the character of the district.

If you would like to help preserve our Stockade trees, please contact the mayor and the City Council members, send letters to your newspapers, and tell your friends to do the same. Here are email addresses for the Council and the Mayor:

Original List (2010):

Councilman Joseph Allen <jallen@schenectadyny.gov>
Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard <bjblanch@nycap.rr.com>
Councilman Mark Blanchfield <mblanchfield@schenectadyny.gov>

Councilman Carl Erikson <cerikson@schenectadyny.gov>
Councilwoman Denise Brucker  <dbrucker@schenectadyny.gov>
Councilman Thomas A. Della Sala <tomdellasala@aol.com>

Councilwoman Margaret King <mcking43@aol.com>
Councilman Gary McCarthy <gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov>
Mayor Brian U. Stratton <mayor@nycap.rr.com>

Updated Contact List (March 2016):

Your comments are welcome on either side of this issue, but no personal attacks will be allowed and civility is required.

. . .

update (May 29, 2010): Washington Avenue looks pretty good at the end of May 2010, with leaves on all the trees. Check out the posting “around the block around sunset” at suns along the Mohawk.

update (June 18, 2010):  See our post, “No. Ferry St. lessons said to cause repaving delays,” about today’s Schenectady Gazette article  “Sidewalk talks delay paving of Washington Avenue in Schenectady” [must subscribe, register for access to article], by Kathleen Moore.  follow-up (Noon, June 18, 2010): See our posting “Schenectady Needs a Tree Preservation Policy.”

– stay tuned for more commentary, news and photos at this website –

FOIL REQUEST: As noted above, I filed two Freedom of Information Law requests at City Hall on April 15, 2010, seeking the following records relevant to the repaving and repair of the street and sidewalk on Washington Avenue(April 15, 2010): Below you can find the wording of those requests with discussion of the City’s response.

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