A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 314: Will the Trees Take Manhattan?

April 28th · No Comments

taxi-and-treeThe battle for New York City’s green future arrived in my mailbox last week. It took the form of a fundraising appeal from MillionTreesNYC, a campaign to plant 100,000 trees every year for a decade, and bore the signature of that eminent environmentalist, Bette Midler.

Which immediately brought questions to mind. Who made the star of “Kiss My Brass” the voice of the city’s greenery? And since when do trees need a publicist?

I grew up in the California suburbs, where the trees grew thick and strong without the application of a single press release. No one needed to explain that the mulberry in the front yard was better than pavement, and this held true everywhere I looked: Trees were beloved, from the stoutest Sierra conifer to the most down-and-out palm in Beverly Hills.

In New York, however, MillionTreesNYC has declared trees as the biggest new sensation since Hannah Montana. Banners on the subway inform riders that trees provide shade, filter stormwater, clean pollution, and are quite nice to look at, too. Are New Yorkers such a bunch of Gollums that they need this spin?

treebranchApparently they do. I did some research and found that if you’re a young tree, you might be better off in a logging camp. A 2004 study in Baltimore discovered that 325,000 of the city’s 2.5 million trees died each year, especially the saplings near big apartment buildings. Who could have guessed that a diet of urine, spilled Pepsi, and the occasional bodycheck by a car bumper isn’t the most nurturing environment?

Now I began to understand the logic behind the Million-Tree March. Flood the streets with a 100,000 saplings. Shake head regretfully as reports arrive of mysterious deaths near neighborhood taverns – somehow right around 2 a.m. – and knife attacks by deranged initial-carving lovers. The next year, send out 100,000 more.

One could draw a comparison between the MillionTreesNYC campaign and the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy: In the role of the slavering orc hordes, eight million New Yorkers; as the hapless, wide-eyed hobbits, a million tender saplings.

This puts Bette Midler in the awkward role of Gandalf, which might best be achieved by transferring that helmet of curls to her chin. We can at least be thankful these trees are deaf.

tree-on-streetThe battle will last a decade or longer, and the bodycount will be high. The gutters will run with fertilizer. If enough greenhorns are thrown in the trenches, a battalion of gnarled veterans will achieve the thick bark of maturity. The Big Apple might emerge a cooler, shadier Eden, where the maples stand tall and New Yorkers are saved from themselves.

Truly, those million trees are the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring, becomes the rose – uh, I mean the redbud.

Tags: Deep Thoughts · East Coast v. West Coast · Encounters with Nature · Personalities · Urban Survival · Why I Love This Town

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