Commentary &Photos 29 May 2011 08:18 am

Caged Birds Sing

- Everyone thinks of New York as made of steel, glass and concrete. If you try to add Trees to that mix, people would look at you querulously. Except for the center of the city, from 42nd to 59th Streets, from Park to Eighth Avenues, you’ll find trees.

But, I thinik, the trees pay some kind of price. The plot of ground into which they’re planted is dressed wholly by the owner of the buildings they grace. Let’s take a look at the cages that are built for trees in the city of concrete, glass and steel.

This is a picture of my block taken this week. You can see how lush
it appears to be, and we have to go in closer to see the planters.

Here’s the base of the tree right outside the brownstone I live in.
No dressing. Just a square hole cut into the ground with the
tree’s roots hidden beneath the earth.

Here’s what a building not too far away from us is using.
A wrought iron cage with lots of additional shrubbery. The
cage keeps animals away from the tree so they don’t kill it.

If you step back you can get a good look at
the tree in, what works as a natural environment.

But then here’s a tree just outside a park. They don’t give
the tree much breathing space in the concrete. And this is
how all the trees surrounding the park are dressed.

It’s probably better than this. It looks different, but
I’m not sure trees were designed to grow through shale.

Here’s a closer look at the rock bed at the foot of this tree.

Within view of J.C.Penney on 32nd St, this building has chosen
to give more space to the trees out front. A longer plot of soil.

They’re only fenced in on the pedestrian’s side of the fence.
But you can see the new growth coming up alongside the tree.
(I think it likes the soil to stretch its roots. I wonder how it deals
with the cigarette butts. Smokers have found a convenient ash tray.)

In another box outside this building, they’ve planted flowers.

This building has chosen something other than an iron fence.

They’ve gone woody, and have added lots of shrubbery.

Some buildings don’t even PLANT the trees.
They place them in decorative barrels, allowing them to be moved.

This building has added plenty of ivy to the mix.

This is the course the City has taken near Madison Square Park.
They’ve cut into the 23rd Street traffic by constructing a place for
pedestrians to sit – in the middle of traffic. The City tries to make it
habitable by adding plenty of foliage planted in planters that can be moved.

The trees don’t seem to be complaining, and it is a bit attractive.

This construction site is trying to make the best for
the tree outside their hostile attack on the building.
They’ve cut around their scaffolding to accomodate the tree.

I’m sure it’ll be a glorious summer for this tree.

Not too different from the decoration around this tree’s base – bricks.

The bricks move in around the plot beneath this tree
right up to a very tight and tall iron fence.

Of course, the trash only sits within the fence disgracing the tree.

Madison Avenue tries to be a bit more graceful for their trees.

A designer wrought iron grill with some delicate plants within the soil.

But only a block away, still on Madison Ave, the grill
takes up any square inch of the tree’s breathing room.

Here’s another one with the grill shabbily designed to cover all
the dirt within the plot. It goes right up to the base of the tree.

Yet, step back in the sun, and the tree looks to be thriving
in the middle of a congested area in Greenwich Village.

Finally, Here’s an image Steve Fisher took a while ago to add to the collection.*

One wonders if the City had regulated what could be constructed about the edges of the trees. Would that have a better designed fencing for the trees? Would that actually be worse, in that there IS the chance that a building owner will do well by the tree? I can’t answer; I can just see what’s there – a grab-bag of fenestration designed to prevent urinating animals away from the trees. But they’re not always the best. I look, again, at what’s outside my building. (#2) The hole left by the City’s planters hasn’t been touched by my building’s owners. Let me say it seems serviceable as compared to the grill in the Village. (#25-26)

In the end, I have to say that I’m just glad to have the tree. Especially at this time of year.

* Steve Fisher also sent this link to the regulations on such plots for trees on the books for NYC.

3 Responses to “Caged Birds Sing”

  1. on 29 May 2011 at 9:28 am 1.Mark Mayerson said …

    This is a great photo essay, Michael. It’s something that usually goes unnoticed, yet the variety is quite obvious when someone bothers to look.

  2. on 29 May 2011 at 6:57 pm 2.The Gee said …

    It is a pretty cool photo essay.

    Sidewalk Trees are cool. I kind of wish they were not an afterthought in the urban design, but, you take what you can get, ya know.

    Sort of related, if anyone might be interested, look into Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of NYC’s Central Park, and other parks nationwide. For several reasons if not more, he’s one interesting cat. I guess the biggest which most in animation can instantly appreciate is he left a great legacy.

  3. on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:46 pm 3.Madeira said …

    These pictures are of great interest to me.

    We are regular tourists to Madeira island and their capital city tries similarly to have many trees planted amongst the concrete and paving stone streets.

    It is a difficult trick to pull off. Some of the Funchal tree roots have attempted to push up through the surrounding sidewalks and roadway. Also, as you photos show, it is tricky to provide attractive protection for the trees in a city centre.

    We are due in Madeira at the end of this week for the Atlantic Festival. If you are interested, I would be happy to take some similar photos of trees in Funchal. Perhaps you could include them on your website as another example of sidewalk trees in a city. Let me know if this interests you.

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