Land Use

Providence Makes Room for Five Dozen Restitution Trees

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These three London planetrees were among those cut down in Providence last summer so National Grid could replace aging underground infrastructure. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

The three middle-aged London planetrees along South Main Street in Providence received most if not all of the attention last year when National Grid had to fell some 40 trees in Ward 1 to replace aging underground transmission lines.

The community rallied against cutting down the healthy London planetrees that had weathered hurricanes, a superstorm, acid rain, and bitter soil. National Grid said it had no choice, noting the trees were directly on top of two vaults containing high-power transmission lines that needed to be replaced. A spokesperson said the trees were planted years after the original cables were installed.

Ilona Miko, a Ward 3 resident who volunteers at the 10,000 Suns sunflower project not far from where the planetrees once stood, started a petition, which was signed by 653 people, decrying the trees’ removal regardless of needed utility upgrades.

They wanted National Grid to find another way. It couldn’t. The trees came down July 15, 2020, with a promise that other trees would be planted to balance the scale.

Early this year, the Tree Restitution Committee, initiated by Ward 1 City Council member John Goncalves and consisting of the Parks Department’s Forestry Division, the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program, Save The Trees PVD, National Grid and other entities, was created to plan the planting of restitution trees to replace those National Grid had to chop down to replace some 2 miles of aging underground transmission lines along parts of Clarkson, Admiral, Dollar and South Main streets.

Miko, a member of the committee though Save The Trees PVD, which she created, said the tree promise was kept because of “effective city leadership” from Goncalves and National Grid’s engaged involvement, as about 70 replacement trees are expected to be planted by this fall, mostly in Ward 1 parks. None will be planted above those vaults on South Main Street, or where future utility projects or development are planned. National Grid is covering both the cost of the trees and the labor to plant them. It also has promised to maintain them.

Not all of the trees, however, will be planted in Ward 1, as the Tree Restitution Committee decided to plant 30 percent of the replacement trees in Ward 11, in canopy-deficient neighborhoods.

Some of the restitution planting has already begun. Young Woods Elementary School on Prairie Avenue received 10 trees. Late last month 13 trees were planted along the concrete playground at the Southside Boys & Girls Club on Louisa Street.

The replacement planting includes 21 different types of trees, including London planetrees, American elm, Callery pear, American linden, American holly, red maple, scarlet oak, Norway spruce and swamp white oak.

Miko said she wouldn’t have made this tree trade — noting many of the felled trees were mature and saying “we shouldn’t have to sacrifice some trees to get others planted” — but is happy the city and National Grid came together to create an equitable response.

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  1. Oh. My. Gosh. Who is making the choices of what can only be called the worst of trees? Norway Spruce? Callery Pears? London planetrees? Are you joking? They are invasive and/or add no food for native birds and other wildlife. How is it that such poorly informed folks are making such important decisions? Finding locally beneficial tree lists is not at all difficult and turns as unfortunate event into an opportunity to do better.

  2. @Chip Hello! The selection of tree species for Restitution were made from a list supplied by the Providence Dept of Forestry, after which Urban Forestry experts made final decisions on the species planted for each location. These decisions take into account multiple features of street trees, such as providing canopy (and thereby heat reduction) in concreted areas, carbon reduction, among many other benefits, to neighboring plant life, humans, and other animals. As many urban ecologists know, the urban forest supports wildlife in many ways, as any tree will help provide shelter while also cleansing and hydrating the air we all breathe. The Tree Restitution Committee was well supported by all multiple expert considerations for maintaining a healthy Urban Forest. There was no lack of consideration or information about the urban ecosystem we are all living in. This is the result of over four months of work by dedicated citizens, scientists and experts on these matters of Urban Forestry. There is no joke here. There are passionate and dedicated people involved in this effort, and many, many others, all aimed to improve the city we live in. Perhaps you would like to be one of them? To get a sense of the decision space for this convening, I’m sure Providence Forestry can provide you with their beneficial tree lists!

  3. I’m also wondering, like Chip McLaughlin, why two non native tree species are being chosen for Lippitt Park. Given the massive decline in bird species and insects, it would seem a city that espouses values of environmental sustainability would have different choices.

  4. If ecoRI published an article discussing issues and benefits of planting specific trees in urban environments, I would read it.

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