Who doesn't love trees?
Tuesday some tree lovers protested the decision to allow U.S. Bank to remove five beautiful trees that grace the street in front of the downtown Ladd and Bush branch.
A city decision to permit the removal of five Japanese Zelkova trees on the north side of the Ladd and Bush branch of U.S. Bank prompted protest Tuesday at Commercial and State streets.
For Salem resident Mark Wigg, the trees are part of what makes downtown Salem unique.
“It’s such an iconic image of what Salem is,” Wigg said. “This is one of the most beautiful parts of Salem. They’re trying to destroy the thing we advertise as what makes Salem beautiful.”
The Shade Tree Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, heard the bank’s request for the permit on Jan. 9. The shade tree committee recommended that the trees not be removed.
But that recommendation was overturned by someone. I don't know who. Probably doesn't matter. In Salem, money and the Chamber of Commerce usually get their way. What big business wants, big business gets.
What this leads to in downtown (and elsewhere) is what's been called the "tragedy of the commons." This happens when everybody does their own thing, like grazing lots of sheep on a grassy common area belonging to everyone.
Result: overgrazing ruins the commons for everyone.
In Salem's case, downtown businesses want to do what they think is best for their bottom line. City officials give them a lot of leeway.
So we end up with atrocities like the ugly Ross Dress for Less sign that graces (not!) one of the main entrances to downtown Salem. And the cutting down of this wonderful tree that I, and countless others, enjoy looking at every time I drive by the downtown U.S. Bank branch.
The end result is that the "commons," downtown Salem, becomes less attractive to residents and visitors. If people want a tasteless, bland, concrete and asphalt-filled shopping area, convenient outlying malls with unlimited free parking beckon.
With fewer people coming to a un-beckoning downtown, the businesses that helped make it unattractive wonder "where are all the customers?"
They don't realize that each of their seemingly insignificant uglifying actions -- a big white sign here, a gorgeous tree cut down there -- add up to the aforementioned tragedy of the commons. A downtown that belongs to every business ends up being wrecked by the semi-well-intentioned actions of many (not all) businesses.
I said "semi-well-intentioned."
This morning my wife phoned the downtown U.S. Bank branch. She complained about the trees being cut down. An employee offered to have someone call her back with an explanation. To the bank's credit, a manager did return her call fairly soon.
He said that the trees needed to be removed for liability reasons. Roots were causing the sidewalk to become uneven. The bank has elderly customers who could trip and fall. This seemed to be the main reason. Other reasons are offered up by a city official in today's newspaper story.
To which I reply: if these trees truly were valued by U.S. Bank and the City of Salem, they'd find a way to preserve them.
Salem's tree lovers would help. U.S. Bank should have asked its customers, along with other people who frequent downtown businesses, whether they'd rather have a perfectly smooth sidewalk or those beautiful trees.
These trees could have been used to bring Salem residents together, rather than split them apart.
As it stands, I and many others now look upon U.S. Bank more negatively than we did before. Giant banks don't have a great reputation for caring about local concerns; this tree-killing episode reinforces that point of view.
U.S. Bank could have reached out with a "how do we save the trees?" campaign. Maybe creative changes could have been made to the sidewalk; maybe artistic signs could have warned of tree root bumps ahead.
We could have ended up with a quirkier, more vibrant, interesting, and, yes, stranger Salem (a favorite subject of mine). Now, it looks like we're going to get five fewer large trees in downtown.
Hopefully people will remember who was responsible for this.
(When I took the photo I didn't notice that the crossing signal had changed to a "stop" symbol; appropriate; too bad U.S. Bank won't take this message to heart.)