Remember the Dr. Seuss story about the Lorax, who spoke for the trees?
The Lorax needs to pay a prolonged visit to Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and his top administrative staff. They are arborcidal.
The city has plowed ahead with decimating scores of beautiful old trees on Cherrylawn Drive in Crossgates and on Collingwood Boulevard in the Old West End — a total of 120 to 130 in all. Since much of the cutting was unnecessary, and much of the result is stark ugliness, this compulsion is hard to understand.
Even harder to understand is the city’s reluctance to involve local citizens in decisions that affect their neighborhoods.
“It is our intent to move forward,” Mayor Bell said at a recent public meeting about Cherrylawn. “It is an important project. I believe in the project. If it isn’t done, there will be more detriment than if it is. I’m willing to take the heat. I’m paid to do that — to take the heat. It’s on me.”
That sounds very decisive and brave. But many Cherrylawn Drive residents didn’t want their beautiful big old trees taken down to make way for “complete streets.” What are complete streets? Streets with sidewalks and new, small, spindly trees.
Many people don’t want the sidewalks either.
Don’t they count?
Many people on Collingwood didn’t want the canopy of trees, for some the chief characteristic of the street, dismantled as a price for repairing their street. The city’s position is that it cannot do major renovation — “full depth pavement replacement” it is called — without taking almost all of the trees.
That point is debated by some neighborhood activists. It also strains credulity. On Townley Road, the city managed to do a beautiful street renovation and leave most of the trees. Originally, the city targeted 88 trees. But under neighborhood pressure, wound up cutting down only 15.
Surely street work, even major restructuring, does not necessitate the mass destruction of scores of trees. Some trees may have to go, of course. And with sidewalks or road widening, some may die.
But no city rips down all the trees, especially mature trees, when street repair is done — as a matter of policy. (In Savannah, Ga., they curve sidewalks around trees. That city’s view is that if trees are characteristic of a place, you preserve them when you can.)
Mass destruction — plowing them all down — was never Toledo’s policy in the past. It should not be the policy now. You can’t save every tree. And sometimes the city has a duty to protect public safety. Sidewalks become important, or a tree that might die must be cut before it falls on a car or a child. But you don’t have to take all the trees either.
Yet the mayor and Councilman D. Michael Collins, who has championed arborcide in the name of progress, say you do. And they seem truly to believe they know what’s best for their constituents.
So opponents of tree cutting, their petitions, and their expert testimony, have been dismissed. They have not been afforded the opportunity to speak at a City Council meeting.
The result is beautiful streets made ugly and shade replaced by bareness. It is neighborhood degradation. And property devaluation.
All because of a policy that is inflexible and extreme. You may laugh about tree huggers, but the pictures with this column say it all. Would you like to live on one of the city’s “complete streets”?
Commonwealth Avenue is next. Beware, Commonwealth residents. The city ax-man is coming. Get a lawyer and do it fast, because the city goes into high gear and cuts these trees down swiftly when opposition arises.
The tree issue should be a major one in the next election — both in its own right and as a matter of government accountability and quality of life in Toledo. The issue might even draw new voices and life into city politics.
Perhaps most troubling here is the arrogance of Mr. Collins, Mayor Bell, and the city administration. The tree huggers say nobody wanted to listen. No dialogue was possible.
The mayor is fond of saying he is not a politician. He says he just does what is necessary — what is right. He takes the heat. But it’s not that simple. Part of the heat is listening to the public. Part of leading is considering other points of view.
Government is a part of politics and politics is debate, discussion, and dialogue. Politicians listen to people not only because they want to be re-elected, but also because, in a democracy, it is their job.
They learn how to balance interests and goals. They learn how to compromise.
Sometimes they learn they were wrong. Just wrong. The mass cutting of trees on Collingwood and Cherrylawn was excessive, misguided, and wrong.
Keith C. Burris is associate editor of The Blade. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.