Midtown Block Pushing for More Trees

By Jill Colvin on July 20, 2011 7:19am 

A newly planted tree in front of 150 W. 56th Street.
A newly planted tree in front of 150 W. 56th Street.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — While some in the outer boroughs may be taking issue with the city's ramped-up tree planting efforts, Midtown residents are begging for more foliage on their sun-drenched blocks.

The West 54-55th Street Block Association is petitioning the city to plant dozens of trees on West 55th Street, between Fifth and Seventh avenues, and on West 56 Street, between Fifth and Sixth, in hopes of making the blocks more appealing.

“56th Street desperately needs trees,” said Elena Volkova, 39, a board member of the association who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly ten years and said the lack of cover is especially noticeable in the blazing sun this time of year.

“When you walk down West 55th in the summertime, you really feel like you need more protection,” she said. “It's really a vast difference between what you’d see on the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side.”

To help with their mission, the association has filed an application with the city’s Parks Department requesting the plantings under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s MillionTreesNYC initiative, which aims to plant one million trees in the city by 2017.

While the program has focused on a handful of neighborhoods, including East Harlem, residents anywhere can request plantings in front of their homes and businesses as well as along entire blocks — though priority is given to blocks with few or no trees, a department spokesman said.

The city recently planted a trio of new honey locusts in front of 150 W. 56th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues, which helped inspire the group’s efforts.

While the program plantings are free, residents are expected to maintain the trees — an arrangement that has irked some who find themselves forced to look after trees they may have never wanted, or have watched them wither and die.

The efforts have also raised red flags among some park advocates who say the city is not investing enough to keep its new trees safe.

But block association members say they're willing to invest whatever time it takes to keep the trees in good condition.

In addition to the application, the association has also been appealing to building owners and developers to plant more trees.

When the developers of a new hotel at 120 W. 57th St. recently came before Midtown’s Community Board 5 to approve a transfer of air rights, members of the association pushed unsuccessfully to include new trees as a condition.

Volkova said members hope that by adding more greenery, they can also help create a sense of unity in a neighborhood where many Manhattanites forget people live.

“Trees really communicate community, that people take care of this street,” Volkova said, adding that she feels they would also help minimize the impact of imposing skyscrapers in the neighborhood.

“It just feels kind of oppressive,” she said.

Other local residents and workers applauded the efforts to bring more green to the stretch.

"I would love trees on the block. I mean there's none," said Eric E., 43, who has lived on West 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues for the past ten years.

"It just makes the city look better," agreed James Bedell, 53, who works at the London NYC Hotel and said the efforts are well worth the cost and any minor inconvenience.

"I agree with that 100 percent," said Vincent Ola, 49, who works with Bedell. "It's absolutely missing it. There are more parking signs than there are trees."

West 55th Street’s Jake Dienelt, 32, put it most succinctly while walking his “puggle” Bernanke, Tuesday night.

“Trees are good,” he said.

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