Friday, October 19, 2012

A moment of silence, please.

On our family walk last night, I took this photo on Main Street between William Street and the South Green.  It looks like the battle between the trees and the sidewalk has finally come to an end.  Although it doesn't much surprise me, I was sad to see that the trees lost.

This block, on the South end of Main Street, has always made Middletown look a little more like Litchfield or Wethersfield than a city.  The old houses here are not original to this site.  The buildings between the Baptist Church (corner of Main & William) and the South Green were saved from the redevelopment efforts that wiped out much of the downtown fabric in the 1970's.  The late John Reynolds apparently used his considerable capital - social and financial - to rally support for saving a few examples of colonial and federal architecture that were slated for demolition, moving them to this site.   This classic streetscape, across from the Inn at Middletown, creates charm and character in this part of downtown.  Interestingly, the history this block represents is not just of the old settlement, but of the long tradition in Middletown of citizens arguing for a different way to think about "progress".

At downtown meetings over the years, whenever sidewalk renovations were discussed, I've tried to bring up these specific trees as an example of a place where we need to work as hard as we can to preserve them instead of just cutting them down when the inevitable infrastructure work began.  Why?  I confess, I'm not much of a tree fanatic.  I don't even know what kind they were.  But I know that the canopy they provided gave me a little rush of collective memory every time I walked under them.  This is what it means to live in New England: old houses, old trees, and a sense of the order that was imposed on this land by those colonists.  Maybe even a little bit of "Ye Olde-y Village" fantasy.   As I've written here before, those tree-lined streets are our brand, and it's foolhardy to let them go without a fight.

Here's another photo for you.  

It's the tree that shades the corner at Thai Gardens.  Ten years ago, it had an X on it, waiting for demolition, but Public Works and Mayor Thornton responded to protest and found a way to give the tree room to grow, while continuing the sidewalk replacement.  I'm just sorry we couldn't find a way to save the trees in front of the Reynolds houses.  

There's no doubt that the sidewalk was in terrible shape in this block.  But was there possibly another solution?  Moving the sidewalk a few feet?  Creating bigger planter areas?  Putting more resources into the project?  Something else?   

These are the questions I would have asked if I'd seen a removal notice on the trees - which the city is supposed to post so that citizens can protest.  But if the notices were posted, I just missed them.  The trees are down, and saplings will go in.  Start the clock.  In thirty years, it will make a beautiful snapshot.


Carolyn Shaw said...

I believe that every measure should be taken to save our trees. Isn't Middletown known for the great number that it has?

In the late 1970's if the Committee to Save the South Green had not successfully brought legal action against the City and the then Redevelopment Agency, obtaining a federal injunction hours before before bulldozers could act to totally reconfigure the "land that belongs to the people", we would have lost forever several lovely old trees- including an enormous and stately copper beech.

Of course, in order for citizen protest to occur, notices of imnpending destruction need to be shared openly... as happened in the case of the tree at William and Main.

Thank you, Jen, for bringing this recent sad event to our attention.


Anonymous said...

call Mayor Drew

Tree Fanatic said...

I agree with Jennifer and Carolyn that it would be very desirable to keep our urban forest intact as long as possible. I did not know of this removal either, even though the Urban Forestry Commission meets with a representative of Public Works monthly. Realistically, only the kind of grass-roots movement that Carolyn mentions has ever had any effect on saving trees or other historic features of our city. It is "cheaper" in the short term to replace a tree than to try to save it. There are companies that specialize in preserving trees during construction, and the cost per tree to do that is in the thousands of dollars. As a (mostly) unfunded and strictly advisory commission, we would need to be able to go to the Common Council at least a year in advance to ask for a budget allocation to do this. Grant cycles are typically even longer-range, and the number of grantors that will give money for street tree planting is minuscule. There are best practices for the planting of urban trees (Urban Forestry is taught at many universities)and the most important factors for tree survival are: choosing the appropriate species, planting at the correct depth in a large enough site with sufficient soil amendments, and ensuring that water can reach the tree roots. After that, if the tree isn't hit by cars or bicycles, it may live for twenty or thirty years. If even one of those conditions was not met, the tree likely is not going to survive even with construction zone protection, and it is smarter to replace it.

Middletown, a Tree City? said...

Isn't Middletown a part of the Tree City USA? Seems a little hypocritical, with this distinction as a community who supposedly cherishes its trees and prides itself on "tree management", that we are removing the trees instead of preserving.