Green giants to guard Briarwood school kids

Councilmember James F. Gennaro made good on a promise recently, and presided over the symbolic planting of street trees which should grow to 50 feet tall on the thoroughfare between two schools in Briarwood.
The ceremonial groundbreaking, on a cold and drizzly morning of Friday, November 9 brought Gennaro, Assemblymember Rory Lancman, parent and civic leaders, administrators and students from P.S. 117 and J.H.S. 217 to the juncture of 144th Street and 85th Avenue to celebrate the plantings.
“This marks the fulfillment of my promise to do something about the safety problem here at (the schools) which would also be beautiful and a benefit to the community,” Gennaro said. “We managed to get the roadway changed to one-way to eliminate the U-Turns, and these trees will help to keep cars off the sidewalk,” he added.
Maya Gutierrez-Granados, co-president of the P.S. 117 PTA, could barely contain her joy at the sight. “It’s wonderful,” she said, pointing to the line of newly-planted saplings. “The trees will make the whole neighborhood more beautiful.”
“This shows what can be accomplished when government and people work together,” said Assemblymember Rory Lancman, who was chair of the Youth Committee of Community Board 8 when the traffic problem at the schools first attracted attention.
“It was a parent who first suggested a green barrier rather than some metal or concrete obstruction,” Lancman explained.
Gennaro also pointed out that the planting space for the trees was substantially larger and deeper than usually seen. “This will provide more room for the trees to grow, will keep more rainwater out of the city’s sewer system and will give even less room for cars to come up on the sidewalk,” Gennaro pointed out, adding, “Everybody wins.”
The students chosen to participate in the ceremony were equally impressed.
“I see this tree as a symbol of progress,” said Jasen Tompkins, 12, a student at J.H.S. 217. “As this tree grows I will grow physically and mentally.”
“These are Japanese Zelkova trees,” said New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Forestry spokesperson Fiorella Trimble. “Under ideal conditions, they grow well over 50 feet high, but in the city, we just don’t know how big they will get.”
The trees, a variety of Zelkova serrata, are members of the Elm family, yet are resistant to Dutch Elm disease, which destroyed many native Elm trees in New York during the late 20th century. Their leaves reportedly turn a brilliant red in the fall.
“We try to plant native species” Trimble said, explaining the choice, “but American Elms were devastated by the blight and Maple and Ash trees have been easy targets for the Asian Longhorn Beetle.”
“We still plant Pin Oaks, though, as they seem to be more resistant,” Trimble pointed out.
In Asia, some varieties of Zelkova grow to 80 feet high, live for 1,000 years and have trunks more than 6 feet in diameter. The trees line streets in some cities in Japan, and it is hoped they do as well here, where winters are somewhat more severe than in parts of the tree’s native habitat.

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