The Face of a Community
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TREES
By Edward Shanahan
As a member of the Northampton Tree Committee, I’m sensitive to the goings (as in removal) and comings (as in planting) of trees around the city.
There was much hullabaloo about the fate of the very large oak tree on Hinckley Street and pain about its eventual removal, an unease I shared, but which was ultimately justified by the tree’s continued deterioration and the hazard it posed.
But the lack of planting of new trees around the city is of equal importance, and my eye recently has been drawn to a couple of locations where more trees are needed.
As we have watched the construction of a new automobile “store” on King Street for the relocation of the Honda dealership by the expanding out-of-town Lia company, we were waiting for the landscaping to appear on the site.
Alas, thus far, along the site’s frontage, there are only half a dozen spindly trees whose leaves are already turning brown, with death all but certain.
In conversations with a planning board member, the Tree Committee had been assured this new dealership project offered a great opportunity for the city to anticipate enhanced landscaping, including the introduction of many more trees for one of the city’s principal gateways. After all, the planning board requires a developer to present a complete landscaping design in order to win approval of any site development plan.
However, the minimal tree-planting efforts of the Lia group, thus far, are not only a step backward, but raise concerns about what is store for the rest of King Street, which Albany-based Lia effectively now owns outright with its recent purchase of the Toyota, Lincoln-Mercury, Chrysler-Plymouth, Jeep and Kia car dealerships, all located within a few hundred yards of each other.
Physical changes will likely be made to those automobile “stores” as well, but it appears trees will hardly be emphasized.
In contrast, one of the relatively recent improvements on King Street, the Northampton Fire Station, and the two long rows of handsome shade trees along its frontage seems hopelessly out of place standing across the street from Lia’s modernistic mess.
On a much smaller scale, I would have thought the “hometown” Florence Savings Bank might have offered to replace the dead red maple that was removed recently from the entrance to the bank’s headquarters on Main Street, as well as the all but dead companion tree 20 feet further down the street near the bakery. (Especially since its new Main Street neighbor, the Northampton Cooperative Bank, has done such appealing and inviting landscaping.)
The city has limited resources for buying, planting and maintaining new trees, and it looks to the private sector to help keep the community attractive by footing the cost of new trees for public spaces.
In fact, one of the actions of the Tree Committee has been to create an account to which individuals can contribute money for the purchase and planting of trees. As a result of a generous contribution from the Northampton 350th Committee, the account now has $1,000, but much more money is needed if we are to keep up with the replacement of lost city trees or enhance areas of the city which are barren of trees.
It is, of course, a matter of scale, but I recently visited Chicago and was stunned at the beauty of the city, not just of its notable architecture, but of its trees, flowers, and shrubs. In the late 1990s, that city planted no less than 300,000 new trees, and, according to one account, each year the parks department sows more 500,000 plants, 10,000 perennials, 150,000 bulbs and 4,500 shrubs.
The message: trees are hugely important in the life of a community.
At our recent monthly meeting, the Tree Committee spent more than an hour knee-deep in grass visiting with John Szafranski of Smith’s Vocational School at the school’s tree nursery at the intersection of South Main, Elm and Nonotuck Streets trying to figure out how to revive the nursery, which has been all but abandoned.
The Tree Committee is seeking ways to reconstitute a robust nursery that would be prime source of new and varied stock for beautifying the city public spaces and roadways throughout the city.
But for now, we might expect that businesses that benefit from being in Northampton would also do their part to benefit the community – and that means taking seriously their tree obligations.
downstreet.net©2001. All rights reserved.