Winds of Change in Boston Parks

June 9, 2010 |

This week has not been kind to Boston’s public trees. Sunday’s storm “macroburst”–a meteorological term for “not quite a tornado, but close”–toppled at least 50 trees in the Boston Public Garden, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the Esplanade. The Boston Globe article on the storm quotes Boston Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman Mary Hines as saying, “This is a priceless loss… The majesty of some of these trees just won’t be there anymore. No matter what we put in to replace them, we’ve lost part of the look of these parks.’’

Gentle readers, Ms. Hines is sincere, but slightly silly.

The central irrefutable fact of a landscape is that is is made of living plants that have a finite lifespan. They live, they grow, they die– they change. The landscape is not constant–especially not in a place like the Esplanade, which is made up of land that did not exist 150 years ago.

Boston also has storms from time to time. Much of Massachusetts’ forests were planted in response to the hurricane of 1938, which leveled thousands of trees. The effects of the hurricane–and subsequent lumber salvaging– can still be detected.  You can see them youself wherever you find uniform stands of tall red or white pines. Many amateur arborists hoped to cash in on the wooden box trade by planting pines after the storm. As cardboard became the undisputed King of Packaging, those pines were never harvested and are now very, very large.

Yes, it is awful that the trees are gone, and terribly expensive to replace them. But they weren’t always there. The Globe also mentions that several of the trees seem to have been hollowed out by termites; they were not long for this world, macroburst or no.

As a public service, I am providing links to photos of what these areas looked like before their trees grew in. Here’s a photo of the extremely unappealing Esplanade, a nice, sunny Public Garden, and the open plains of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

With luck, the Parks and Recreation Department will take a deep breath, sit, and think about what kinds of trees really suit these spaces in the landscape. Then, they’ll plant them, and they will be small, and people will complain that they aren’t the same as the trees they replaced… and when the next hurricane comes, they’ll be young and limber enough to survive. And they’ll grow.  And change.

Spread the good word!