“What a thought that was, when God thought of a tree.” – A quote from a 1906 Piqua Daily Call article, “Public Park for Piqua”
There is something magical, almost transcendent about trees. When I see an old tree, I am transported to the past. Who planted that? Did it spring up on its own? How many thousands of people have enjoyed that same sight, how many deep breaths of fresh air were taken because of it? And all the lives that have been lived around it, while the tree grows silently in the background, keeping all our secrets and looking on at us perpetually. I say a prayer of thanks for those that have gone before me. Through a tree, I am connected to the Piqua of the past.
I understand that same experience of refreshment is not a conscious one for everyone, but I have met many who share similar sentiments. Even without such sappy emotions involved, there are many many objectively identifiable benefits of trees. In proximity to our city, trees provide us with fresh oxygen and reduced pollutants, lowering our risk of chronic respiratory illness. Cities with more tree canopy are cooler in the summer than those that have less. Trees provide windscreens and shade for our paths. Studies have even shown that more greenery from trees can reduce the blood pressure of an area’s population and correlate with higher property values.
Trees are also messy. In an urban environment, they can present hazards and they cost money to maintain. I would like to present my humble opinion, as both a city planner and a proud new resident of Piqua, that those costs are worth it. The effort to continue to maintain our street trees and overall tree canopy is worth it.
In an urban environment, there seem to be hundreds of reasons to cut down trees. I do recognize that trees need to be placed with care. Trees on the levies that protect homes from floods are unfortunately not in the right spot. Trees that grow under power lines need to be pruned back, with expertise. Damaged trees that present hazards to people’s homes may also need to be removed.
But I disagree that the seasonal plague of bird poop that needs to be cleaned off our sidewalks negates the many positive benefits of street trees in our downtown. People like to walk on the shadier side of the street, which makes a financial case for preserving the tree next to your storefront. I disagree that every bump in the sidewalk near a tree presents a hazard to our lives or that there is never a better solution than to cut that decades-old tree down.
Local governments and community members should proactively plan for the expenditure of time and money for tree infrastructure. We should recognize that when we feel forced to cut down trees near power lines or sidewalks or maintain parks that are blank fields of mowed grass, we are actually making choices as a community, because there are many alternatives available to us. Communities in Ohio and Michigan and the Carolinas and all over the world have proven that trees, and lots of them, can be well-integrated into a city environment. Forward-thinking cities all over are setting goals to get from 20 to 40 or 50 percent canopy coverage. Raleigh, the “City of Oaks,” and my previous stomping ground, boasts 55 percent.
Piqua’s canopy last year was 26 percent, but we have lost a significant amount over the last year. Invasive honeysuckle is left unchecked everywhere and also threatens to crowd out the trees that would otherwise grow up naturally.
We should take cues from other communities and have a conversation about what we want for ours. I am in favor of setting definitive goals for preserving and adding to our city’s tree canopy. I appreciate those who have, throughout time, dedicated their efforts to maintaining and preserving our existing tree assets. I hope to continue to extend that same gift to my children and theirs.
Kyrsten French is a resident of Piqua and the city planner for the city of Piqua.