Seeing the forest for the trees
Cleveland Heights has so many empty places where there ought to be large shade trees—as in our parks. Ever try sitting on a bench in the summer sun watching your child on playground equipment while baking uncomfortably because of a lack of shade? Not fun. This especially is strange in a city that has a tree in its logo.
Many large, old trees were lost in recent storms. Others, suffering from disease or pest infestation, have been taken down. New, large old trees do not just magically appear overnight. In olden days, our city cared about that. It planted trees that eventually would become big. Not dinky flowering trees, as on Fairmount Boulevard. And not sickly small trees, as on many of our tree lawns. Results often were quite visually striking. For instance, the view of large-growth trees as one drives down the Cedar Road hill toward University Circle is wonderful, especially as leaves turn color.
That view was no accident. It was created by A.D. Taylor, a famous landscape architect who had a national reputation during the 1920s. He also worked on Cumberland Park. He developed a wonderful plan for Forest Hill Park that later generations ignored and then forgot. He landscaped Father Flanagan’s Boys Town! Many large, old trees we still enjoy today were planted under his guidance.
I mean no disrespect to our city foresters, past and present. The city can do better if it provides proper resources and direction.
That soon may become apparent. Start Right Development Corporation recently contracted with the city to build new infill housing. That contract requires the city to implement an intensive tree-planting program in the Caledonia area. It requires not only new trees in front of new housing—per the contract, enough trees are required, on entire streets where new housing will be built, to create a “wow” effect. And not just little trees that will never grow large in our lifetimes are required, but fast-growing shade trees.
Such shade trees do exist. The city forester planted two disease-resistant elms in front of my own house to replace sick old trees. They became big in only two years.
A tree-planting model developed in Caledonia may prove worth repeating, and not only in residential areas. Tree planting to create a “wow” effect in commercial districts would be good, too. Cuyahoga County has a major tree-planting program. There are other similar programs. Our city can participate in them. But such participation could require civic support and the political will to create a proper budget. It would require executive leadership at City Hall.
Hopefully, the city will be faithful to its contract with Start Right, and show how seriously it takes restoration of a forest in Cleveland Heights.
Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on city council 1980–1987, and was council president/mayor 1982–1987.