Sunday, May 30, 2010
One tree at a time
This spring I watched trees and flowers being planted up and down State St.-- trees in the median strips, lavender bushes on the slope outside STCC's iron fence. Then, one day a month ago, I came into work to discover that the previously grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb had been paved with black tar.
Trees and grass everywhere I looked!-- in front of Burger King, the closed Kavanagh's building, the median strip-- but not in front of our little strip of storefronts, which house a Black-owned clothing alteration and tee-shirt shop, a Latino-owned recording studio and music store, a storefront evangelical church, a Vietnamese-owned nail salon, a Chinese restaurant, a Turkish-owned pizza shop-- and, of course, Arise.
"What are we, too ghetto to get grass and trees?" I asked myself-- and started my phone calls to get to the bottom of this story. First I was told by the city that it was a state plan, and I'd have to get my question answered by one of several state employees. No calls were returned over several days. Then finally I was sent back to the city, to Dept. of Public Works Director Al Chwalak.
Al told me that the tar was only temporary, that eventually the tar would be replaced by brick.
"And what about our tree?" I asked.
"There's no room for a tree," he said. "The strip is smaller since we widened the street."
"And you know that for sure?"
"I'd have to check with the city forester," Al said.
Now, I'd already called the city forester, Ed Casey, and he hadn't called me back. Maybe a call from Al would get a better response.
Then I was away for a week, and when I called Al on my return, he told me that the forester hadn't called him back, but he'd try Ed again. He also mentioned that city employees would be walking up State St. on Wednesday and Thursday, doing their punch list to track the work finished and unfinished.
So we made our signs, put them in front of Arise, and waited for the city to come by.
On Wednesday, we spotted the folks in suits and orange vests on the sidewalk outside our office. I went out to talk to them, and one turned out to be Al Chwalek.
"You're getting three trees," he said. We're bricking the strip but we'll create three tree wells."
"Thank you very much!" I said, and we shook hands. So it turned out our signs were unnecessary, and yet I knew that without the dozen phone calls,our strip would have remained treeless.
Last week I drove by the house where I lived for thirty years, owned by a slumlord who never maintained the house, and which eventually, after the chimney started to fall to pieces and the foundation began to crumble, I had to leave. Someone-- and I think not the city-- had cut not only the junk trees, but also a magnificent maple tree, at least a hundred years old, that had provided afternoon shade for my bedroom on hot summer days. Only a ten foot trunk still remained standing. It was heartbreaking.