By Bonnie Bellow
With New York City street trees in full bloom, I can’t help thinking about my street tree, the one that went down with an unceremonious thud on the night of Hurricane Sandy. For more than 15 years, I have looked out the third floor windows of my Upper West Side apartment and marked the change of seasons by the leaves on that tree. I was awakened many a morning by the chirping of the motley crew of urban birds that sheltered in its branches. Now all that’s left is a monument to that scruffy tree – a stump in a small square of dirt cut out of the sidewalk, framed by a rod iron fence the height of a small dog.
The loss of one tree is really nothing compared to the people who died that terrible night and the vast destruction across the region. But it is something when you realize it was one of an estimated 10,000 New York City street trees toppled by the storm and thousands more in city parks, woodlands and backyards across the city. Trees are critical to making New York City livable. The shade they provide keeps city streets and buildings cooler, making us more comfortable outdoors and reducing the need to use as much energy for air conditioning. Reduced energy use translates directly into improved air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Trees also remove pollutants from the air, absorb and filter stormwater, reduce noise and just make the city more beautiful.
Now that my tree is gone, I look out on the brick façade of the school across the street. The sun is already streaming unfiltered through the windows, turning my apartment into a hothouse and forcing me to pull down my shades even during the spring. I can only imagine my electric bill this summer when I need to use my air conditioner. I will probably even miss the noisy insects that took up residence in that tree every July.
With the coming of spring, people in our area are starting to rebuild after losses to Hurricane Sandy much more serious than a tree. But sometimes in a disaster, it’s the small things that touch our hearts. I look down my street and see all the trees that survived the storm, some with broken limbs, but still popping with blooms. It gives me hope that sooner or later, a new tree will be growing in that empty patch of dirt and New York City will recover as it always does.
About the Author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.