How Parks Dept. Can Avoid Barking Up The Wrong Tree
Sometimes our city’s government can have a very worthy policy goal, but goes about it the wrong way. That is the case with street trees.
There is no question that I strongly support the planting of new trees in Woodhaven and across New York City. Last year, this newspaper published a column of mine titled “Keeping Woodhaven Wooded.” In that column, I argued, “It is time for fallen trees across Woodhaven to be replaced, and for remaining trees to be looked after better than they have been.”
Every time a tree comes down without being replaced, our neighborhood becomes a slightly less pleasant place to be.
That said, the Parks Department-which is responsible for street trees-should make some changes to its tree-planting approach
Over the past couple of weeks, the Parks Department planted a large number of trees across Woodhaven. I enthusiastically welcome this news. But in a number of places, they cut open and removed sidewalk to create new tree pits, sometimes without providing advance notice to the owners of the property responsible for maintaining that sidewalk.
In at least one case, Parks Department personnel got into a shouting match with a business owner who did not want a tree and resented how the personnel began to rip up his sidewalk without so much as a courtesy notice.
I have several suggestions for how the Parks Department should consider changing its tree-planting policies and practices.
First, plant trees in existing tree pits, and remove tree stumps for replacement, before cutting any new holes in sidewalks. There is simply no need to create new spots for trees when plenty of current spots remain empty.
I have heard various explanations as to why tree stumps linger while planting is being done in new locations-Parks Department treestump grinding machines have been broken, and outside contractors are responsible for stump removal, to cite two examples. The agency must make it a priority to resolve these problems. It makes more sense for the Parks Department to replace stumps with trees, instead of using its limited resources to cut open sidewalk.
Second, plant trees outside properties that have requested trees, before planting any outside properties that have not requested trees. The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association has received word from dozens of property owners who would love to have a tree outside their residences and who logged requests.
Many of these people are still waiting-even as the Parks Department is foisting trees on other property owners who are unenthusiastic about receiving saplings. It makes no sense.
Third, if a sidewalk must be cut, provide advance notice to the affected property owners. Nobody should be taken by surprise by a crew ripping up his or her sidewalk without forewarning.
Fourth, attempt to respect people’s wishes regarding planting street trees on their property. No property owner is legally entitled to refuse a street tree-I understand that, and I am not proposing a change to that. But there are so many willing property owners that those who do not want a tree could easily be moved to the bottom of the list without significantly reducing the number of tree plantings. In general, the Parks Department should try its best to avoid forcing a tree on anyone.
Fifth, tree maintenance must be taken as seriously as tree planting. One reason some property owners do not want trees is because they believe-often with good reason- that the city will not carefully tend to the trees, which can cause the trees to damage sidewalks or, eventually, to fall.
Sixth, the Parks Department can change its policy and plant trees on private property (at the owner’s request, of course) if that property is adjacent to the public right-of-way. For example, if someone wants a tree planted in their front yard facing out onto the sidewalk, the Parks Department will not currently honor that request-even though a frontyard tree would offer all the same public benefits as a street tree.
These are some commonsense proposals the Parks Department should consider-and, I hope, adopt-in its effort to make Woodhaven and all of New York City a greener, more tree-friendly place.
Editor’s note: Blenkinsopp is member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the WRBA. For additional information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhavennyc.org.