When my son came across this circa-1928 image in the Toronto archives, I realized how much we take our urban forest for granted. This is a picture of the school across the street, taken from what is now our front lawn. And here is how the same scene looks about 80 years later…
We think our street trees have been around forever, and that they will continue to be around for generations. Not so. These giants have a shorter lifespan than trees in forested situations. We should be thinking forward and planning (and planting) to replace them now, before they disappear. An illustration…
At the right of the entrance to the school in the archival shot, you might detect the threadlike trunk of the brother or sister of my maple next door. Here is what happened to that sibling in a wind storm this May.
Such tall trees are continually being pruned to avoid conflicts with hydro lines or homeowners who feel they need a trim. The main branches can become long and top-heavy. Insects such as carpenter ants can move in where damage or a narrow crotch (the V where main branches meet) have left the trunk open to rot.
Wind happens. Lightning strikes. Branches fall.
Naturally, a tree like this once compromised, especially one above a loading zone for kids and parents, must be scrutinized. Once assessed, trees might end up painted with The Dreaded Orange Dot.
Eighty years isn’t long, but it’s long enough that we stop paying attention. We shouldn’t. Our street trees, and even those in our parks, aren’t mighty redwoods lasting 5,000 years. They have a brief lifecycle that includes old age and death. We, therefore, should have a succession plan.
At the awards show for the East York Blooming Contest, I met Andrea Dawber of GreenHere, who has become a bit of an expert in grassroots community reforestation. I’ll be asking for her guidance in attempting a street-long initiative to interplant the next generation of street trees here. I expect it will be difficult. People like the smaller trees, or flowering trees. They don’t like the shade; I kvetch about it myself.
Yet, in addition to the environmental role our soaring trees play, aesthetically they have a huge impact on the character of our street and on nearby nabes of the same vintage. It would be sad and ugly if all we were to see of our trees was this.