Thursday, April 17, 2014


While many will be celebrating Easter with their families this weekend, I'll be spending Earth Day with my secular parents, the free spirited hippies that brought me into the world in a 1970s farming commune. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, a little bit. Still, I was raised on campgrounds and hiking trails. I could swim in a river before I could walk, and to this day grow my own vegetables on the small sidewalk in front of my house.

Needless to say, sometimes I get a little frustrated living in the concrete corridor of the Northeast. Here, AstroTurf passes for grass and faded silk flowers adorn window boxes. I find myself chatting with the Amish at Reading Terminal Market just for a little piece of home.

Of course Philadelphia is no stranger to the outdoors. Fairmount Park is one of the biggest urban park systems in the nation and community gardens have become the answer to vacant lots in some of our most blighted neighborhoods. But newly planted trees around Callowhill are stamped with a stencil on the sidewalk stating, "THIS IS A TREE." Obviously, in Philadelphia some people need to be reminded.

Last weekend, walking just a few blocks from my house, the Center City hotels were prepping for spring. That's great. How they prep is not. Loew's Hotel was replacing their seasonal creeping juniper with spring pansies. Wonderful. Beautiful. Except the juniper ended up in the trash. Even worse, along the small plaza at 12th and Filbert, five year old trees were topped, ready to be cut down and replaced with saplings.

Of course seasoned Philadelphians will claim that has something to do with underground plumbing or electricity, which is why they send their teenage sociopaths to the streets of Fishtown and Pennsport with box cutters to kill newly planted trees. But the city's underground is as mysterious to them as it is to those who maintain it.

Plus, there are ways to control the root structure of newly planted trees so that they can easily be moved when they get too big, relocated as Fairmount Park infill or along the Delaware or Schuylkill where they can mature. Sure, this may all sound like the idealistic ramblings of a tree hugger, but the new trees aren't cheap and those chopped down are even more valuable. Whether any of these plants - trees or shrubs - are being disposed of by a private hotel, office complex, or government facility, our cash strapped parks department spends thousands of dollars planting the same trees and shrubs that these organizations are trashing.

This isn't a soapbox without a point. The city's Parks Department could establish some kind of Green-Swap program, using volunteers to gather discarded plants and trees, and then replanting them in parts of the city more conducive to long term growth.

It doesn't have to end there. The city's park system is vast, with acres of unused or underused space, particularly fields. The city could use parkland to grow trees from seeds. A maple tree takes only two or three years to reach the height of those being planted around offices and hotels.

Once those plants mature or become unseasonable, the Parks Department could retrieve the tree or shrub and replace them with our locally grown saplings. While there are plenty of willing volunteers who'd jump at the opportunity to get their hands dirty, it also creates a unique experience for the city's public schools.

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