Volume 80, Number 19 | October 7 - 13, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Points

High winds (and hemlines) are taking out our trees

By Daniel Meltzer

Mother Nature giveth and Mother Nature taketh away. In June of 2008, she set her sights on the Ramble in Central Park and tooketh 33 trees with what they call a microburst — a sudden, localized downdraft during a thunderstorm with winds anywhere from 50 to 120 miles per hour.

On Aug. 18 of last year, a microburst swept across the northern sector of Central Park and felled more than 100 trees, many very large and very old, altering the park’s landscape significantly.

And last month, on Sept. 15, the National Weather Service tells us, two tornadoes and a macroburst (covering a much wider swath than a microburst) swept across Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, destroying an estimated 6,000 or more trees across the three boroughs. Many more trees were damaged, as well as homes and other buildings. A 30-year-old woman was killed after she had pulled off the Grand Central Parkway to park in what she thought would be a safe spot during the violent storm, but where a large tree would fall and crush her car, and her.

There is little or nothing that we mere mortals can do to control the wrath of nature, aside from planning ahead and trying to deal with global warming by burning fewer fossil fuels each year. Meteorologists predicted years ago that uncontrolled climate change would, among other things, bring more and more intense storms. Louisiana has still not fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans five years ago.

In our borough, in particular, with its towering brick, steel and glass canyons, every tree is precious. Few can survive at all in the shadows of all the higher and higher-rise business and residential towers that are seemingly under continuous construction here. Midtown, from 14th St. to Central Park, with the exception of Bryant Park and some of the tonier brownstone blocks on the East Side, is in its own way, a concrete desert.

All of which makes the news that much sadder that 56 tall, slender and rather graceful trees were sacrificed on the altar of high fashion recently at Lincoln Center. They were uprooted and destroyed to clear space in the Center’s Damrosch Park for the enormous tents and service trailers of last month’s Fashion Week, the annual splashy display (moved Uptown this year from Bryant Park) of anorexia and what a handful of Gotham’s more prosperous and adventurous women may be sporting once or twice sometime soon. A “naytiga schef,” as my grandmother would ironically tag it (“A really necessary thing”).

Lincoln Center admits the trees were taken down for the fashion show. The Center says the trees were “distressed.” Well…who isn’t these days? Nothing a little watering couldn’t have cured.

In case you didn’t know it, the shady, green space outside of Fordham University across the street from Lincoln Center will be bulldozed in the not-too-distant future for several new buildings on its property, including at least one very tall condo tower as a cash cow for the school.

Trees, their limbs covered with leaves in summer and coated with snow or glazed with ice in winter, enhance our environment, breathe oxygen into our air in constant combat against traffic and chimney fumes, provide homes for birds and squirrels (O.K., and the occasional raccoon), and shade us in relentless summer heat.

Poetry is an art form not promoted at Lincoln Center. If it were, someone there might have recalled the words of Joyce Kilmer: “I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.” Or those of George Pope Morris; “Woodsman, Spare that Tree / Touch not a single bough / In youth it sheltered me / And I’ll protect it now.” How many odes can you cite to the Time Warner Center, the MetLife (formerly Pan Am) Building or, for that matter, the David H. Koch (formerly New York State) Theater at Lincoln Center?

Mayor Bloomberg promised to plant 1 million new trees in the city. Can we now up that to at least 1,007,000?


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