May 14, 2007



Trees don't vote. Trees don't threaten to move to the suburbs. Trees don't do drugs or commit crimes. Trees don't stage protest rallies. Trees don't demand equal rights. Trees just stand there and quietly do their jobs.

But a new City report says that Baltimore needs a whole lot more trees, and that the number of dead and dieing trees is far too high relative to the number of healthy ones. It's not just something we ought to put on our wish list. It is something that Baltimore NEEDS in order to be a healthy city.

Download the City's "Urban Forest Management Plan" at:

I don't know anything about trees, but I have had my share of experience with bureaucratic reports that contain lofty intentions, and then end up on dusty shelves with all the other reports. This tree report is written in the same bloodless bureaucratic style that we are all painfully used to.

The goal to double the City's tree canopy is far too reminiscent of a similar goal in an old MTA report to double transit ridership. Yeah, right... As if...

But none of those old transportation planning reports pertained to LIVING THINGS that are physically essential for a healthy environment. These transportation projects must rightly go through exhaustive political and bureaucratic processes and be subject to the human element before they can be implemented.

Trees are different. When it comes to trees, there is really no role for populism. Baltimore NEEDS TREES. The experts say they need to cover twice as much of the City as they do now.

This recalls a transportation project I instigated back in the '80s to expand the median strip on US 40 West - Edmondson Avenue and Franklin Street. I dutifully went out to the community groups and asked them how many trees and how much landscaping should be included in the project, relative to space for median openings and left-turn lanes. The consistent answer that I got from the communities was that left-turn lanes were far more important than trees. The trees would not be maintained and would just die and were therefore useless.

The City should have had a policy back then that said that a maximum number of trees would be planted - and that's that !!!!!!! There should be no discussion about the need for trees just as there is no discussion about the need for stormwater drains or sewer pipes. Trees are just one of those things that must be provided, and if you don't like them - that is your problem !!!!!!!

Since then, there have been several projects to try to make trees work on the fragmented median strip that was eventually built on Route 40 West, including one that is happening right now. Hopefully, this one will work, but it would have been a lot better if the project had been done right to begin with. We need to give the people what they need, not necessarily what they want.

This is not a matter of abridging individual freedom. It is simply what is right.

Just look at Baltimore's few neighborhoods that have good healthy trees and the many that do not.

Otterbein is one of the good ones. The pictures shown here don't dwell on the fact that Otterbein is the home of houses for a half million dollars on up that are occupied by a bunch of disgusting self-absorbed yuppies who are the bane of Baltimore City's existence because they drive up the housing prices so that low to middle class salt-of-the-earth genuine folks can't afford to live in the City anymore on their sub-living wages and are being banished away to Lord knows where...

No sir, the pictures shown here just show that the Otterbein neighborhood is the home to a massive luxuriantly dense forest of street trees that cover the streets like God's own green cathedral. Don't even bother to notice that all these folks are smug holier-than-thou types who all drive Toyota Prius Hybrids so that they can brag that their carbon footprint is smaller than yours or mine...

So what form of crass discrimination is responsible for the fact that all the healthy trees gravitate to neighborhoods like Otterbein, to mingle with the high and mighty, while we normal folks have to live in the poor barren treeless neighborhoods where global warming hits home with a vengeance?

Well, you can answer that... You'd want to live in Otterbein too if you could afford it. Or Guilford or Roland Park. The trees aren't dumb.

But back in the early '70s, Otterbein was as treeless and barren as any other neighborhood. The tree planting was part of the conscious effort to redevelop the neighborhood, and it was wildly successful. At least for the people who bought into it. And for the trees, who have professed no political allegiances.

Bottom line: Baltimore simply needs to do the same thing it did in Otterbein in the entire rest of the City. Not necessarily as far as evil neo-conservative or pinko liberal conspiracies are concerned, of course. Just as far as trees are concerned. That's just what the City's tree report needs to say.

And if there is some kind of local resistance to that, then to hell with the people and to heaven with the trees. Trees are like canaries in the coal mine. You don't have to like canaries to pay attention to them. Like I said: When it comes to trees, there is no role for populism.


  1. Thank you! When I sold real estate houses on streets with trees sold for a much higher price on those without. I'm sure someone could calculate the value of living on tree-lined street and it makes a big difference-not to mention what it does for your a/c bill. When we moved to Little Italy we started having to use our a/c way more than we used to in Federal Hill. Little Italy is particularly treeless-the oldster residents hate them (the mess! the birds!!) although everyone does have a fig tree out back. I'm thinking of sneaking out in the middle of the night to plant trees-our empty tree pits are so sad.

  2. Sounds good but, as with kids, you'll need to keep an eye on them for a couple decades until they're mature enough to fend for themselves.

  3. I live in Pigtown, and we have lots of trees. Go figure. I love your blog, by the way -- I've discovered some really interesting parts of the city since I started reading it. Thanks for updating it so often!

    I do wish the city would plant a more diverse selection of trees -- what's wrong with a tulip tree every once in a while? A sugar maple? Locust tree? Anyone?????

  4. Thanks, Gerald, for referring folks to the urban forest management plan. People can get on our the TreeBaltimore mailing list by contacting me at

    I recommend reading the article in today's sun 7/25/07 Trees fall; city hears. please write letters to the editor in support of regulating private trees and Trees in general