Lay new sidewalks, keep old trees

This should have gone without saying, but the municipal sidewalk program should preserve as many existing street trees as possible. Tall trees with full foliage shade the sidewalk and make walking around the City more bearable in Syracuse’s steamy summers. A sidewalk—even a brand new perfectly level one—will not be a good place to walk if it’s fully exposed to the elements.

So it’s really very bad that City Hall is trying to fix the sidewalks by cutting down a bunch of decades-old trees. There may be cases where a tree is so close to the sidewalk and its roots are so disruptive that it’s truly necessary to remove the tree in order to build a new ADA-compliant sidewalk. In those rare instances, fine, cut down the tree, but make sure to replace it immediately to avoid the same problem in the future.

But, as Syracuse History has pointed out, City Hall is choosing to cut down trees even when it’s not really necessary. It was probably easier, cheaper, and faster to just cut down this fully grown tree, but it wasn’t necessary. The sidewalk could have curved around the tree, it could have been raised over the roots, they could have removed just a single root. There are plenty of ways to build a decent sidewalk and preserve the mature trees that make walking safer, healthier, and more pleasant.

The Mayor has been making the case that Syracuse needs more trees. He’s using covid relief money to plant a bunch and wants to increase the City’s canopy by about 25%. That’s a good goal, but he will never reach it if he starts by removing the trees we already have.

Cutting down fully-grown street trees in order to lay new sidewalks is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Street trees take decades to grow tall enough to provide all of their benefits. The trees we have now are gifts from previous generations that we can’t quickly replace. City Hall needs to figure out how to lay new sidewalks and preserve these treasures.