I got this really interesting email from reader Brendan this morning and wanted to share it.

So, I have been waiting to move to Brooklyn for years now, and I finally did (today officially), onto a block of Eckford Street that I liked particularly for how many trees it had (between Norman and Nassau.) Unfortunately, if I had a blog, the title of today’s entry would be “A Tree Goes in Brooklyn,” which is pretty far from what I had originally intended.

This morning, while I was in my rented moving van waiting for my movers, a garbage truck drove by and an upper branch of the tree directly in front of my house somehow got caught on part of the truck. The truck kept going and eventually took a good part of the tree with it. The trunk split, and about a quarter of the tree fell along the sidewalk, blocking three houses (see photos.) The garbage truck didn’t even slow down and turned the corner.

The expected hijinx ensued, with neighbors emerging in bathrobes from basements and third-story windows. The police and various landlords were called repeatedly, and eventually the street was blocked off by a firetruck while the firemen starting cutting up the fallen branches with chainsaws. Interestingly, a generational divide seemed to emerge, with most of the older residents who had showed up saying that the rest of the tree should be removed, as well. (The younger hipsters, for the most part, tried to hide their surprise and interest under the usual veneer of general disdain.) One elderly woman said that they shouldn’t have had trees like that in an area like this to begin with. I don’t even know what that means.

I’m pretty shocked that anyone could want these trees removed — or any trees really, in an urban environment where they are a pretty limited commodity. Even if we had tons of trees, I would still say we should keep them. They’re nice, and feel healthy, and do good things for privacy and sunlight, not to mention the environmental benefits. People honestly feel otherwise? Do I really need to be making a case for trees? We were told that the Parks Department will be showing up tomorrow (Wednesday) to do some clean-up and possibly cut down what’s left of the tree. I want to reiterate that “what is left of the tree” is MOST of the tree. Admittedly, I am not a tree doctor, and I will begrudgingly leave it up to the Parks Department experts to determine if there is any sort of hazard involved — to either the tree or area residents — if the tree is left in place. I really hope not, though.

With all due respect to those of my neighbors who seem to feel otherwise, trees are not out to get us. I hope (and tried expressing this hope to 311) that this tree will be given a chance.

I just wanted to spread the word, and if anyone wants to chain him or herself to the tree tomorrow…. Brooklyn and trees — let’s keep the green in Greenpoint, right?

Greenpoint’s newest resident,
(who doesn’t want his arrival to result in a tree’s departure),

I agree that trees shouldn’t be removed from our blocks. Maybe if the city agency that was responsible for trimming trees (Parks Dept?) did so, garbage trucks wouldn’t rip off the branches. I realize some of our blocks are really, really narrow and it’s not necessarily the Sanitation Departments fault that the hit the tree (though stopping would have been nice), but the response of the elderly woman who said “that they shouldn’t have had trees like that in an area like this to begin with” – I agree, I have no clue what that even means.

Greenpoint lost a lot of trees due to that whole Asian long-horned beetle incident in the 90’s. We really shouldn’t be losing anymore if we can help it.

Update 6/9/10: I got a great email from a Park Department employee in response to Brenden’s email.

Hi There,

I just read your post “Keep the Green in Greenpoint” and as a Greenpointer myself (Leonard & Calyer) and a Parks Department employee I felt the need to reply in greater detail than a blog comment. I’d appreciate it if you could send this email along to Brendan, though whether you want to post it is up to you.

The kind of tree damage he describes is, sadly, very common, and one of the major reasons why trees have a hard time surviving in NYC. It’s especially bad when it happens to a larger (older) tree, since that tree has passed the point where it stands a good chance of dying from environmental stresses such as drought or weed competition. Also, an older tree gives a lot more back in the way of “ecosystem services” – water and air purification and temperature control most important among them.

However, the good news is that I know firsthand that the Parks Department is absolutely on the same page with Brendan – the city honestly considers trees to be a vital part of infrastructure these days and very intelligent and dedicated people will work hard to save the tree if possible. We know that an old tree is irreplaceable and valuable, but we also can’t leave a dangerous situation in place. As for pruning, the sad fact of the matter is that due to budget constraints the number of people and equipment available to prune is tiny compared to the number of trees that need it, so we can’t necessarily get to as many trees as we’d like. Plus, no amount of pruning will save a tree from a large and careless vehicle.

Finally, and amazingly, you would not believe the number of anti-tree calls we get! People’s reasoning varies from safety concerns (falling limbs, etc) extra work (they don’t want to rake leaves) and the sense, seen here, that trees simply don’t belong in cities. However, we know that a city without trees is hotter, dirtier, and is home to higher crime and lower property value. We have a solid scientific basis for planting and saving trees in New York, and our current policy is to save every tree we can and plant every space we can.

In short, chaining yourself to this tree won’t be necessary. No matter who calls in to 311, this tree won’t be cut down unless it is either guaranteed to die from its injury or is structurally unsafe. If you have the energy and want to help Greenpoint’s trees, the best thing you can be doing right now is watering the young trees when it gets hot and dry! We’ve planted a bunch of stuff in Greenpoint, and our studies show that locals caring for them is the number one factor that decides whether they live or die (all else being equal, of course.)

Say what you will about the way the city is run, but believe me, the Parks department is on the same page as Brendan when it comes to policy regarding trees, although we value and respect the opinions and preferences of all residents.

This is all my off-the-record, personal observations, and shouldn’t be taken in any way as official correspondence or a promise from the department of any kind. Just wanted to let you know from an insider’s perspective that we definitely do care about the trees.

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  1. That was an extremely quick response from the Parks Department and actually quite thoughtful. I am a total advocate for keeping Greenpoint green and hope if the tree is removed, a new one is planted in its stead.

    Action is greater than words- I know it is possible to arrange for new trees to be planted by the city and if Brendan is truly concerned, perhaps he can file the appropriate paper work, coordinate with the landlord, and even organize a petition from other landowners on the block to get the tree replaced.

    Brendan- if you are anxious to adopt Brooklyn as your new home, you should lose the stereotypical hipster lameness. "The younger hipsters, for the most part, tried to hide their surprise and interest under the usual veneer of general disdain." Hipster jokes are totally played out and do nothing but propagate some ridiculous stereotype. Greenpoint is a great place to live because it supports an amazing Brooklyn born community as well as young working professional transplants. It is Greenpoint's open mindedness that makes it a great place for creative types to flourish.

    In my years here, I've noticed that Greenpoint residents enjoy a strong sense of ownership to the community, regardless if they were born here or moved here. The disdained hipsters you spotted were probably merely normal people expressing concern as you were, that something was up in their neighborhood.

    The hipster buzz word only serves the media as a means to create some false sense of elitism and cultivates division and cynicism within a community. Totally a strange place to take a stand against hipster jokes I know, but the point is don't stereotype a community you just moved into.

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