Trees Part II Coming

So, the three dead trees around the Washington Square Fountain I reported about on Monday (Part I) were removed yesterday. That’s a good thing!  Part II on these newly planted trees which have repeatedly been dying is a bit delayed and coming tomorrow Friday. 

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4 thoughts on “Trees Part II Coming”

  1. We should be so lucky that only the new trees around the fountain will keep dying. Trees will continue to decline and die throughout the park due to the recent and ongoing construction as well as many design choices that are deadly to trees. The reason is simple. Because the landscape architect knows nothing about trees, what injures them and the conditions they require to live and prosper. While some LA’s understand that instruction about trees was grossly inadequate during their education, and educate themselves further after graduation, luddites like this landscape architect make it a matter of pride to remain ignorant and not sully their pure design vision with lowly practical matters. Like allowing the trees to live.

    In the case of the fountain trees, you will notice they are planted in tiny sunken holes, about two feet below the pavement. There is no air or life in this dead soil under the pavement. The trees respond by dying. They are eloquently telling the world that they cannot exist in these deadly growing spaces. They will continue to die and Parks will replant them as often as needed to cover up the fact that their landscape architect was incompetent and wasted so much money. For the trees to survive, the pavement will need to be pulled up and proper soil and growing space will need to be provided. Unless this is done, the only sensible thing to do would be to replace the trees with large urns and plant geraniums in them. Replant the trees elsewhere if you expect them to live.

    Another deadly design choice, as far as the trees are concerned, was to create the new berms throughout the perimeter of the park. Not to get too techincal, but essential tree roots radiate away from the trunk about as far as the branches extend overhead. And not very deep below the surface, usually less than two feet and often within six inches of the surface. Tree roots can not survive having soil piled over them by raising the grade more than a few inches. As living things, they require air to live and they suffocate slowly when smothered with soil. You see that these berms raise the soil grade up to two feet above the majority of critical tree roots surrounding the park. Just remember what the soil level used to be before the park was reconstructed. While this does not kill trees immediately, you can already see many signs of decline. This decline will continue to spiral downwards. When the dead trees are removed in a few or ten years, the landscape architect will appear to be perplexed over their death and offer up the cause as old age. If anyone remembers to ask him. It’s very, very outrageous that among these doomed trees is the historic hanging elm in the northwest quadrant.

    As bad as the design is, how it was implemented is an ongoing tragedy. Remembering where the critical roots are, extending wherever there are branches overhead and just beneath the soil surface, I’m sure you can see and remember what happened construction-wise underneath the branches. The only part of the trees that were protected from construction damage were the trunks, with those little symbolic wooden barricades. 95% of all the tree roots were unprotected from the full assault of construction: ripping, tearing, excavating, smothering, crushing, flooding and general mayhem went on for years without a single person on the construction team standing up for the trees. Again, trees do not die from this appalling damage immediately, but decline has already begun and some trees have already succumbed. You can bet the farm on having a very sunny park in future.

    I think the story about the trees in Washington Sq. Park is utterly hopeless and black. I’m so depressed about it I can’t go to this park anymore. In any case, thank you for the blog.

  2. Very informative piece — I only dispute the writer’s attribution of the term “Luddite” to George Vellonikis …

    As we are this year commemorating the 200th anniversary of the amazing Luddite rebellion in England, it is worth thinking about how term has been stripped of it’s historical significance. As I wrote in my booklet, “The Capitalist Infesto”:(published in the magazine “Socialism and Democracy”):

    “Two hundred years ago, in 1811, the Luddites — as with the Iroquois and other American Indian communities — offered a different measure of progress, one not defined by artificial discipline, mechanical efficiency or the expropriation of Nature and exploitation of Labor. Contrary to popular mythology, the Luddites did not oppose machines per se, but ‘machinery hurtful to Commonality.’ In England they wielded hammers against the newly installed giant mechan­ical looms; in France, their counterparts threw wooden shoes (in French, sabots) into the gears (hence the term ‘sabotage’). The emerging industrial system found it needed to crush the Luddites, who were organizing across England and were becoming a wide­spread and well-organized mass movement. The bourgeois presses distorted and then obli­terated memory of the Luddites’ radical direct action ‘critique’ of factory production from history’s texts. So did the Marxist parties, who falsely caricatured the Luddites in order to dismiss their trenchant critique of industrial technology.”

    The NYC Parks Department and its architects are the opposite of Luddites; let’s drink a toast to Ned Ludd and the movement he inspired every night for the remainder of the year!

    Mitchel Cohen
    Brooklyn Greens/Green party

  3. Hi Thomask,

    Thanks so much for writing and for your interesting, informative comment. I so understand your despair over the situation. You would think this Parks Department – based in New York City – would have the up to the minute knowledge and be doing first class work. So distressing to hear otherwise.

    Some of this – the lack of tree protection and the park’s trees dying up to 7 or more years from now – was brought up in one or two of the lawsuits; none of which prevailed.

    Question for you – I’ve walked by other parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I thought at Prospect Park the trees were better secured during construction but I’m not certain if they were really protected in the manner you are saying they should be. What would that look like? How should the roots — beyond the wooden “barricade” — be protected during construction? Is this a Parks Department decision or the individual contractor? (Phase I and Phase II – different contractors – seemed to be handled the same way.)

    Everything you wrote was very informative and well outlined and thank you.

    I may use some of your comment another day.

    A more detailed post I put together ran yesterday on the trees (I included a link to your comment):.

    Thanks for writing and stopping by.


  4. Hi Cathryn. Sorry for the delay in responding. And I’m happy to learn to be much more circumspect about using “luddite” in future!

    How to tell whether trees are being protected? On the one hand, it’s important to recognize (as you do) that tree protection is not a matter of intuition or “common sense”. Unless professional arborists are full and equal members of design teams, trees will be needlessly hurt and killed out of ignorance by engineers, architects and landscape architects. Sadly, it often comes down to a turf thing, and people don’t want to share power with the arborists.

    So one way to answer your question would be to say you can’t tell. You have to be assured that professional tree expertise is an essential and on-going component of project design and construction. The issues are complicated and there’s a lot in terms of tree damage you can’t tell by casual observation.

    But I’ll answer your question another way. Think about all the area under the overhead tree branches as “sacred ground”. This area must be fenced off so the contractor can’t enter it. And I mean this literally. No entering for parking payloaders and personal vehicles, storing pipes or curb sections, trenching for utilities, placing port-a-potties, washing out concrete trucks, you get the idea. Nothing, nada, no thing can happen in the sacred ground.

    If you don’t have any sense when you look at the tree that there is inviolate, protected area under the tree branches, the tree is in big trouble. This is a simplification, but gives the essense of the truth. In crowded urban places, work sometimes needs to be done under tree branches. But you should have a sense that the work under the branches is controlled and contained, and confined only to the particular place where the work needs to happen. This is where the arborist needs to be present, whenever work happens under the tree branches.

    There was and is no inviolate, sacred space for trees in the reconstruction of Washington Square Park and we are seeing the results.

    Tree protection gets much more tricky when a big tree is growing out of a small tree “pit” and most of the roots are under pavement like sidewalk, street or plaza. As long as the pavement is intact, it is protecting the roots underneath and they are fine. The problem is when the pavement under tree branches is taken up to be reconstructed and the tree roots are now unprotected and vulnerable. In such a case, you should be seeing some kind of special protection for the exposed roots. Such as a thick layer of wood chips, gravel, plywood or steel plates. This is the really tricky part of tree protection and an arborist on site is essential. A good way to see if trees are being protected is to ask to speak with the project arborist. If one is not available it’s cause for worry.

    I’ll close with some perspective. Tree protection is a relatively new thing in this country. Although there is ample knowledge and skill to include effective tree protection in project designs and carry it through construction, the established professions and the construction industry resist change. I believe that instructive blogs like yours are the most effective way for good changes to happen. Even though trees are needlessly killed in “broad daylight” and in “plain sight” people don’t know what they’re looking at. Education is the key to raising the alarm and you’re helping a lot. As I said in my first post, I’m pessimistic about the trees in WSP, but countless trees will surely be saved in the future with a shift in attitude and awareness now. Thank you.


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