Fishtown’s disappearing trees

Neigh­bor­hood trees are com­ing down, but ef­forts to re­place them are spring­ing up.

A tree on the 400 block of Bel­grade Street was re­cently re­moved at re­quest of the landown­er. Many trees like these are re­moved due to the dam­age it causes on the block’s in­fra­struc­ture. CAR­O­LAN DI­FIORE / STAR PHOTO

Dor­is Mor­ris has lived in Fishtown for more than 50 years, and re­mem­bers full well the mul­ti­tude of trees that lined the streets of her neigh­bor­hood grow­ing up. As she walks down Mont­gomery Av­en­ue nowadays, these trees are few and far between.  

“We had a lot of trees,” Mor­ris said. “I am sad, in a way, be­cause they were so beau­ti­ful.”

Many Fishtown res­id­ents have be­gun to take no­tice of the lack of green life in the neigh­bor­hood.

In re­cent years, the city has re­moved thou­sands of dead or dan­ger­ous trees from streets throughout the city, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

Denis Dev­ine, who’s lived on Bel­grade Street for the past five years, also ex­pressed his dis­may that the trees have to be taken down. The ne­ces­sity of their re­mov­al, however, is un­der­stand­able, he said.

“I’m sad to see the trees go,” Dev­ine said while walk­ing his two small chil­dren around the neigh­bor­hood.

Des­pite neigh­bors’ com­plaints at the dwind­ling amount of green life in their area, of­fi­cials in­sist that trees that are re­moved are done so out of ne­ces­sity.

Timothy Gill, dir­ect­or of mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tions for the Phil­adelphia De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation, said trees that are taken down are deemed un­suit­able to re­main stand­ing.

“These are dead and dan­ger­ous trees, usu­ally re­moved at the re­quest of the homeown­er,” Gill said. “Very rarely do we take down a live, healthy tree.”

Des­pite the num­ber of trees be­ing re­moved, there are mul­tiple ef­forts be­ing made to re­plant the trees. Jacelyn Blank, co-founder of Philly Tree People, a non­profit that works to plant new trees in the loc­al com­munity, has a back­ground in tree tend­ing that runs in the fam­ily.

“My dad’s a land­scaper, so there’s a lot of his­tory be­hind why this is so im­port­ant to me,” she said. “After mov­ing to the city, I was ap­palled at how much green life there really wasn’t.”

A Kens­ing­ton res­id­ent, Blank met Nykia Perez at East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bor As­so­ci­ation meet­ings. The pair, along with Dina Rich­mond, bon­ded over their in­terest in tree tend­ing and star­ted Philly Tree People in 2007 to bring more trees to the neigh­bor­hood.

“We de­cided to just do it and see what happened,” Blank said. “It stinks to lose these old things.”

Blank said she was over­whelmed by the re­sponse for their first plant­ing, when they planted about 70 trees.

“I feel really, really good when it’s vo­lun­teer day and we get al­most all the time 100 vo­lun­teers,” Blank said.  

Year after year, Blank said she began to re­cog­nize fa­mil­i­ar faces com­ing out to plant more trees in the neigh­bor­hood.

“People have come to really an­ti­cip­ate the plant­ings,” she said.

Dev­ine and his wife planted a tree near their home on Bel­grade Street shortly after the birth of their son in Novem­ber 2011, and plan to put an­oth­er tree in their back­yard for their oth­er son, who is only a few months old.

After see­ing the amount of de­struc­tion the trees can have on the block’s in­fra­struc­ture, such as break­ing un­der­ground pipes and over­head wires, he said many are afraid to plant more trees be­cause of the pos­sib­il­ity for fu­ture dam­age.

“There’s a cal­cu­lated risk you take when you plant in the neigh­bor­hood,” Dev­ine said. “You have to make sure the trees can co­ex­ist with the ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture.”

On the oth­er side of the de­bate, there are also many be­ne­fits to hav­ing trees in the neigh­bor­hood.

“Un­for­tu­nately some trees do have to come down, and it’s dev­ast­at­ing, but the over­all beauty of the trees I think are the best be­ne­fit,” Blank said.

As times change, Blank said the Pennsylvania Hor­ti­cul­tur­al So­ci­ety is learn­ing more about which trees are best to plant in city neigh­bor­hoods.

Small trees, she said, are bet­ter be­cause they won’t tamper with the util­ity struc­ture and elec­tric­al wir­ing.

“It’ll in­volve a lot of tri­al and er­ror,” Blank said, “but the be­ne­fits of the trees are too im­port­ant to pass up.”

The spring plant­ing will take place Sunday, Apr. 27 at 10 a.m. at 2771 Jasper St.

They are also now ac­cept­ing ap­plic­a­tions for new trees to be planted in fall 2014. For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it www.phillytreep­

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