Monday, July 2, 2012

A Requiem for the Trees

As I walked to my office from the Polk Street Station this morning, I noticed the asphalt was radiating back more heat than usual and it wasn't because it was hotter than usual. A dozen trees had been taken down on Paulina this past weekend between Roosevelt Road and Taylor Street. I knew this was coming, because in spite of being a Tree Campus USA and having a Campus Tree Care Plan, it was determined that these Honey Locust trees had to go.

A row of Honey Locust trees once stood between the sidewalk and fence
Why? Because we want our campus to be accessible to people with disabilities and the sidewalk on the west side of Paulina is uneven and filled with hazards. The unevenness is due to the roots lifting the sidewalk up at all angles. This happens in many parts of the city and comes from the conflict of nature with the built environment. While we plant trees that will endure the harsh urban environment, with limited water permeability and tight places, often the infrastructure and the trees compete.
Tight spot for big trees, lifting sidewalk

So the sidewalk will be rebuilt to provide an even surface. While UIC strives to be accessible to all people and to be sustainable in many ways, there will be conflicts and compromises. Let's continually look to resolve those conflicts in creative and inclusive ways. In the meantime, let us honor those trees:

Honey Locusts still line east side of Paulina St.
Honey Locust is a fast-growing tree with fragrant spring flowers. Tiny leaflets turn yellow or yellow-green in fall. It is tolerant of pollution, salt, compacted soil, road salt, heat and drought making it suitable for urban environments. Although its name contains "honey" the connation is due to the sweet taste of the legume pulp, which was used for food by Native American people, and can also be fermented to make beer. The fast growth rate and tolerance of poor site conditions make it valued in areas where shade is wanted quickly.

These twelve trees helped reduce the urban heat island affect of the asphalt-paved streets and parking lots, provided shade to passers-by, absorbed carbon dioxide, and provided simple green beauty to the campus. We hope that their mulch will  benefit gardens nearby.

The university is committed to plant trees nearby to compensate for the loss. Mid-summer is not a good time to plant trees, but come fall I hope we will see new plantings and trees along Paulina street. Please hold them to it!

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