Friday, August 7, 2009

The Magical Power of Street Trees

Perhaps you've seen me driving in your neighborhood, slowly weaving down the tree-lined block, breezing through stop signs with Magoo-like bravado. If so, you've surely assumed my cellphone distracts me but, actually, it's the trees.

Street trees engross me. Old trees lining the sidewalk with grandeur let me share the vision of planners working over 60 years ago, and newly planted trees tell me that someone somewhere, be it resident or community council, has a vision for the next fifty years. I'm interested in which species have been planted, how they are taking the sun or wind exposure, if they are healthy or afflicted, if they fit their new home or show signs of becoming a neighborhood nuisance...

It's often the trees that set the tone of a neighborhood, adding to the character and identity of the place. Chances are you don't actually notice them unless they are dramatic in some way -- reaching for eachother's branch tips far above the center of the street, creating a shower of blossoms in spring, standing tall above all other trees to mark a neighborhood from a distance or, unfortunately, lifting the sidewalk with needy roots. But the right tree in the right place, providing seasonal shade and clean air, color and living presence, not the mention the all important design element of scale, is truly priceless to a neighborhood and its residents.

That's precisely why, had you been passing through my neighborhood three evenings ago, you might have seen me jumping for absolute joy right there on the sidewalk in front of four young street trees newly planted less than a block from my own home. Blessed with a large, prominent corner lot in our modest neighborhood, my Now-Favorite-Neighbors recently dug the dried grass from their sidewalk strip and contacted the City of Los Angeles to plant street trees. Not just any street tree, mind you, but the incredibly gorgeous and coveted Jacaranda (see photo above). And not just one weak little 15 gallon tree, but four healthy, well-spaced, well-staked boxed trees complete with sizeable watering wells! I am deliriously happy!

Jacaranda mimosifolia. The lacy, airy, royal princess of flowering Southern California street trees. Yes, some find the blossom drop a drag. But, casting their delicate purple cloud over the block each spring, I'm certain these trees will be so enchanting that no one will think to complain. In fact, I predict a seasonal spike in neighborliness, an increase in 'Hello' and 'Nice Day We're Having', more 'Here Let Me' and less 'Hey What The?!' Inspired, others along the block might plant trees. Homegrown fruit might be traded over walls. Gates left open to invite casual visitors... loud dogs hushed and stray cats fed... Doubtful? It could happen. Plant one for yourself and see. Such is the magical power of street trees...

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