A Local “How To” Guide: Advocating for Trees

One man’s efforts to bring back the benefits of neighborhood trees.

By Daniel Greenwald

Bronxville, NY (January 6, 2014) – In April, 2011, I was a co-op owner in Bronxville, NY. My building abutted the Sprain Brook Parkway which was shielded by a row of approximately 23 trees towering at least 30 feet in height. They provided a fortification against the highway, dampening the din of traffic, mitigating pollution, offering a haven for local wildlife, and celebrating the beauty of greenery.

Dan Greenwald 2During that time, the New York State Dept. of Transportation (NYS DOT) came without warning and razed the entire line of trees, the apparent result of one fallen tree. Although this action may have exempted NYS from further liability, it had a catastrophic effect on the quality of life for residents of the co-op. The highway decibel level immediately increased, the visual blight of traffic was revealed, and residents reported a near daily build-up of soot on their windowsills.

I waited to see what my co-op board and DOT would do, and soon discovered that neither party would be undertaking any ameliorative action. I realized that the only way to remedy this catastrophe was to initiate advocacy on my own.

I wrote a short fact sheet summarizing what had transpired and sent my complaint via email to two local politicians, Mayor Mike Spano, City of Yonkers, and NY State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins. I also circulated the fact sheet internally urging co-op residents to complain to DOT, and local representatives. Fortunately, a sufficient amount did so!

Dan Greenwald 1Mayor Spano drafted a persuasive letter on the co-op’s behalf to the head of NYS DOT petitioning for a tree replanting. Janis Morris, the director of constituent services at Stewart-Cousin’s office, began a sporadic dialogue between her DOT contact and myself which was to last well over a year.

DOT was initially responsive in fall 2011, and agreed to replant the trees. However, they cited 2012 budgetary constraints, and delayed the projected replanting until the summer of 2013. I reinitiated my advocacy in early 2013. It took a while to receive a response, but when I did, Ms. Morris informed me that DOT would in fact replant during summer of that year.

At the end of October 2013, following the sale of my co-op, something miraculous occurred as I was packing to leave. A DOT highway crew arrived one day, again without warning, and began mowing down the vegetative infestation where the trees had previously been. They labored continuously for the next two weeks.

Dan Greenwald 7When all was completed, a terrific landscaping job had been configured. Four types of greenery were arrayed along the highway edge in a highly aesthetic fashion: maple saplings, pine bushes, pine trees, and small shrubbery of indeterminate variety. The greenery was properly secured, and the soil was covered with aromatic wood chips. From the ground level of the co-op, the visual blight was immediately redressed. And, noise abatement will eventually ensue for residents of my former co-op.

Daniel Greenwald, PhD, is a semi-retired urban school psychologist pursuing a second career as a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter.