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Editorial Advisory Board: First … let’s kill all the trees

Spectators watch the Qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix

Spectators watch the Qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan said that “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” Pundits and comedians have gotten much mileage out of Reagan’s “Killer Trees” comment. Recent actions and potential plans by the City of Baltimore make us wonder whether our municipal leaders feel the same way about trees that Ronald Reagan did.

In 2008, the City of Baltimore cut down blocks of mature Bradford pear trees along Charles Street, claiming that they were inappropriate and reaching the end of their lifespan. In their stead, the City has planted a variety of spindly, wimpy trees, many of which probably will not make it to maturity. In September 2010, the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy urged city officials to adopt its plan to “upgrade” Mount Vernon Place by, among other things, cutting down all but one tree on the four squares around the Washington Monument and replacing them with uniform trees that supposedly would be more architecturally pleasing. And, recently it was disclosed in the Baltimore Business Journal that the planning group for the Baltimore Grand Prix race wants to cut down mature trees along Pratt Street to erect grandstands for the race.

During the middle part of the 20th century, trees were banished from many Baltimore inner-city neighborhoods and downtown. Back in the day, one could walk for blocks in Canton or Highlandtown without seeing a single tree; trees in the downtown area were almost as rare. Starting in the 1970s, trees began to reappear in city neighborhoods and downtown. Although there sometimes are good reasons to cut down mature trees, one should be cautious about doing so in an urban environment. A square block taken out of a sidewalk or a promenade is not the most hospitable place for a young tree. For every mature tree in downtown Baltimore, many young trees have been planted and died. It is naïve to expect that mature trees that are not 100 percent perfect or are temporarily inconvenient can be replaced easily.

Great races and trees are not incompatible. Even though a million people gather to see the final day of the Tour de France, it is inconceivable that the City of Paris would mow down the trees on the Champs Elysees to allow better viewing of the race. Photographs of the Grand Prix de Monaco show that grandstands and mature trees can live together — some of the grandstands are built around trees.

We support the efforts of people who care about Baltimore to improve public spaces, such as Mount Vernon Place, and to bring world-class events to the city, such as the Grand Prix. Last week, the City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) partially approved the Mount Vernon Conservancy’s plans for Mount Vernon Place, but deferred any decision regarding the cutting down of the existing trees in the four squares until its Feb. 8 meeting. And the Downtown Partnership, in a response to the Baltimore Business Journal Grand Prix article, sent The Daily Record an e-mail which states, in part: “we’ve been working with the City and the Grand Prix [organizers] on a plan to preserve trees where possible and to adopt a strategy for replacing trees or adding other types of landscaping.”

However, we still have great concern about both the Mount Vernon and Grand Prix plans. City planners and officials should think twice before cutting down established trees.

It has taken almost 40 years for Baltimore to soften its concrete jungle with mature trees. The trees that we see today are the rare survivors of many young trees that have been planted over the years. We have seen too many dead or dying saplings on streets of Baltimore to believe that mature trees can be replaced easily.


  1. SAvE the trees

  2. The Mount Vernon Place Conservancy proposes to replace the trees in Mount Vernon Place as a component of its plans to restore the Washington Monument and Mount Vernon Place squares, the designers’ Carerre and Hastings finest park design, and a National Historic Landmark. The trees are to be replaced to restore the designers’ French classical design intent focusing attention on the Washington Monument. The replaced trees will be 30 feet tall, with 8 inch conifers, providing a substantial canopy from the time of planting as well as environmental benefits exceeding the current trees. The replacement is also necessary as a component of a sophisticaled plan to install an underground storm water management system, an irrigation system and to replace undernourished and urine-saturated soil. Because of the small space, these improvements are inextricably joined together, but once completed, create the optimal conditions for the new trees to thrive. At least 25% of the current trees are either dead, or will die in the next 5 – 15 years. As the historic heart of Baltimore City, recognized world-wide as its iconic symbol, this restoration is long overdue. The plan is developed by Olin of Philadelphia, the nation’s most respected architectual landscape firm, whose credentials exceed that of the unidentified and uninformaed Daily Record Advisory Board.