Loss of trees symbolizes lost local history
by Michael Perlman
Nov 15, 2012 | 8557 views | 2 2 comments | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A 70-year-old tree in Forest Hills before Hurricane Sandy...
A 70-year-old tree in Forest Hills before Hurricane Sandy...
...and after.
...and after.
Hurricane Sandy marred the landscape of the tri-state area and beyond. Not only were community residents displaced and lost lives, but some of our mature trees, which have withstood the test of time for nearly a century or greater, were uprooted or snapped.

Also gone are the aesthetic and environmentally sustainable benefits of trees, and the memories instilled as generations of residents crossed their paths.

Some religions and cultures worship trees, and seek great lengths to optimize their health, regarding them as monumental pillars. However, in recent years in Forest Hills and Rego Park, some property owners have cut down trees and paved over lawns, which has an adverse effect on the environment and local ecology, infrastructure, and neighborhood property values.

Since the September 2010 macroburst, which predominantly affected Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, the Department of Parks & Recreation, along with MillionTreesNYC and partners, planted greater than 80,000 trees in Queens’ parks and along streets.

According to staff member Zachary Feder, the Parks Department received 20,044 Hurricane Sandy-related 311 service requests for fallen trees and hanging limbs, with 13,245 of those requests for downed trees. To date, 7,369 of the 20,044 requests have been addressed.

In Queens alone, there were 10,324 requests, where 7,062 were for fallen trees, and 2,943 of those requests have been addressed. When the nor’easter struck on November 7, the Parks Department received an additional 3,420 service requests, with 2,150 in Queens.

“We document the locations of all removed trees, and if appropriate, replant in the same area,” said Feder.

Residents of Forest Hills and Rego Park mourned the loss of our trees, and began documenting the devastation weathered the storm. Patrick Rocco, a jackhammer operator with Local 29, moved to Rego Park at age four. Upon visiting his grandma’s ground floor apartment of Park City Estates at 98-20 62nd Drive, he would occasionally swing on the vines of a tree there.

This tree stood as a testament to his childhood, but was uprooted during the hurricane.

“Trees are a lot like people in a sense,” he said. “You love them when they are here, and you miss them and have memories of them when they are gone.”

His father, Patsy Rocco, worked for Carol Management, which managed several building in the area. After graduating from high school, he would assist his father on landscaping some of the properties.

“Many of the trees you see today in the rotunda of Park City Estates, I helped plant with my dad,” he said.

He recently moved to Pelham Parkway, and is grateful that it is lined with majestic trees, evoking a feeling of the tree-lined streets in his native neighborhood.

The Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, in affiliation with New York Restoration Project, coordinated its third tree giveaway event in MacDonald Park in Forest Hills on October 14. One-hundred trees were donated to private property owners to help restore the natural landscapes and foster environmental benefits.

Tara and Mark Levin of Rego Park were among the 20 volunteers who helped with the event, and also adopted and planted trees at their building. Two decades ago, the Levins emigrated from the Ukraine.

“I immediately fell in love with the neighborhood,” said Tara. “It was clean, green, and well-kept by homeowners. No private land was covered with asphalt. In contrast to back home, we have never seen such beauty. Some trees were so mighty in Rego Park, I thought they had been growing since the Civil War. It was my great frustration seeing them destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.”

Forest Hills was named in 1906, and originally included the land that became Rego Park in 1923. Some trees that succumbed during the hurricane on city curbs or on private property either dated to the establishment of residential developments spanning the 1920s through the 1960s, predated the development due to sensible urban planning, or were planted at taller heights than they typically are today.

The earliest planned garden community in the U.S., Forest Hills Gardens was established in 1909, and a majority of its current trees were planted under the supervision of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Rego Park’s Saunders Street witnessed its earliest apartment houses in the 1920s under the Real Good Construction Company with unique buildings such as Marion Court, Remo Hall, and Jupiter Court. As of the late 1920s, Forest Close and Arbor Close were developed in Forest Hills, which was also a prime example of urban planning in regard to architectural and landscape components.

In 1952, Philip Birnbaum’s garden apartment high rises, the Howard Apartments, were developed. Sadly, Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy were responsible for the loss of the property’s historic massive Elm tree and Honey Locust tree, respectively.

Many graceful American Elms have vanished due to Dutch Elm disease, and Maples due to the Asian Longhorned Beetle in Central Queens, but it is significant to preserve what remains, besides planting new trees such as disease-resistant Elm cultivars.

Mike Mitchell, Community Initiatives Manager of New York Restoration Project provided some recommendations to increase a tree’s longevity.

“Some structural pruning early on is necessary, so their branching structure is sound,” he said. “No branches should meet at less than 45 degrees, no branches should be greater than one-third the width of the main trunk, and multiple leaders should be removed.”

Once a tree reaches its maturity, a professional should monitor its health. Trees New York offers a citizen pruner class. Newly installed curb trees are now often planted in a 50 square foot tree bed.

“The greatest benefit is space for root growth and stormwater capture,” said Mitchell. “It will prevent roots from lifting the surrounding sidewalk, as long as the appropriate tree is planted.”

The Parks Department has created a street tree list to prevent planting inappropriate trees. There is an ongoing effort to expand existing tree pits through the Trees and Sidewalks Repair Program.

Mitchell explained that some trees have shallow root systems and poor branching angles such as Callery Pear or Silver Maples, whereas some have taproots such as Black Walnut, Sassafras, and Hickory family trees.

Although these tips might help prevent trees from snapping or uprooting, Mitchell admitted that “no trees are invincible during extreme weather, and trees which survive well vary from storm to storm.”

“Planting a tree makes us stronger, so do it for our city, your home, your children, and for yourself,” added Levin.

The public can consult with 311 to adopt city trees, report fallen trees, and file new street tree requests. Through NYRP, the public can also adopt and plant trees and coordinate tree giveaways.

There are also tree stewardship workshops and opportunities and tips on the Parks Department and NYRP’s websites. Proactive greening activities are limitless, so make every day Earth Day, and play a creative and beneficial role for our landscape’s future and the next generation.

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george sullivan
November 15, 2012
I remember living in park city and watching patrick rocco hugging trees he would say these trees are the air WE breath he was only 8 amazing story I live in florida and pat told me never to smoke trees
Pat Rocco
November 16, 2012
Hahahaa...Thats Funny George..lol...But im sure you miss Park City...thats where we were rooted as kids and made us who we are...