Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bristol and the Pear Trees

I found this in the Bristol Herald Courier . . . it is just the kind of thing that fires me up.

Bristol residents want a say about the future of the pear trees that line State Street.

The trees put on a colorful display in the spring and the fall that many residents and visitors find charming. Others consider the trees a nuisance. The matter is far from settled.

Believe in Bristol, the downtown advocacy group that oversees the cities’ new Main Street program, appointed a committee to study the trees last week. This committee’s recommendation could carry much weight with the elected leadership of Bristol Virginia and Bristol Tennessee, which will make the ultimate tree-chopping or tree-saving decision. For that reason, the committee should do its work in public.

Another point in favor of an open, transparent process: The trees belong to everyone in the city, not just downtown property owners. They were planted in 1982 by the cities as part of a downtown beautification project – no doubt using public funds. And, if they are removed and replaced with a smaller species of tree, city taxpayers would pick up the tab.

City residents want a voice in the tree debate, but so far there has been no official channel for comments. Instead, the trees’ supporters and detractors have written impassioned letters to the editor, posted comments to an on-line discussion at our Web site and stopped city officials on the street to give them a piece of their mind (possibly accompanied by a bit of fist-shaking and anger). All of this informal communication is great, but it is no substitute for giving average city residents a voice in the official process – whether that discussion takes place under the umbrella of Believe in Bristol or at City Council work sessions.

The cities’ elected leaders seem to understand the need for a public process, at least to a degree. Of course, they will hold the requisite public comment period after a plan has been drafted and is up for debate. The law requires this.

But if city officials (and by extension, Believe in Bristol and the downtown property owners) want the public’s support, the process should be open from the beginning. Hear what city residents have to say about the trees. Listen to their reasons for saving them. The trees’ beauty enhances downtown. A decision to remove them shouldn’t be made lightly; nor should it be made simply because some downtown property owners dislike the trees.

Period street lights and decorative trash cans are fine, but they don’t contribute much to the downtown aesthetics. The trees are gorgeous in spring and fall; they provide welcome shade in the summer and add to the festive feel when they are lit up in the winter. Some have pointed out that the sparkly lights don’t all work, but that can be fixed.

Opponents of the trees say they are too large and messy or that they are weak and prone to break. These might be valid points. However, if the discussion of these points takes place behind closed doors, residents have every right to be concerned that certain groups’ views will be given more weight than others; that the process was not truly democratic.

The ultimate question – should the trees stay or go – hasn’t been settled. The debate must remain open to public scrutiny as the process moves forward.

You know why it fires me up? Because some people don't understand a couple of basic truths. First, if you want people to do business with you, and by business I mean anything that involves shopping, dining, and other service-based industries, you need ascethetically pleasing areas. Bristol is on the verge of becoming less ascethetically pleasing of its own free will - problematic given that its trying to start its own tourism business (read as "steal thunder from Hiltons, Sevierville, and Abingdon").

Secondly, you have durable adult trees already in place which are both lovely and help filter out air pollution, not to mention decreasing sound pollution by muffling automobile noise. Why should tax-payers pay to replace these only to serve the short-sighted interests of a very few individuals (e.g. oh no, there was wind, and I have to pick up *shudder* a branch!!!!!)?

We kowtow to automobiles and trucks enough. . . its necessary and essential sometimes (e.g. in terms of interstate development). But unless Bristol wants a reputation for downtown with less life than New York, that is to say unless it wants for some mysterious reason to be like Knoxville, I say keep the trees.


sctaylor said...

The tree issue is legit and the cities are taking the proper steps in seeing what should happen to the trees. If people want to be involved in the process than they need to regularly attend city council meetings and voice their concerns before actions start to happen. Furthermore the trees should go, they detract from a lot of wonderful architecture, they are at a point in their life where they can start causing major damage to personal property, pear trees were not designed by the great almighty as decoration for an urban business district, State street is to narrow for such trees, they split in half at the mere thought of wind, and they do not enhance the architecture around them but cover it up.
The trees were originally planted to brighten up a declining downtown and boarded up businesses. The downtown is no longer declining and the buildings are being restored. So now let the buildings show off their beauty and let the pear trees become mulch for a playground.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Papaw, I dig what you're saying, and I know your primary concern is the architecture - hell, you know more about Washington County's buildings than anyone but the Deity. That said, I have to say that trees are absolutely, 100% essential to quality of life. Compare Dandridge, TN to Jefferson City, TN - on the whole, almost anyone would concur that Dandridge is the far more visually appealing town, even if parking is more widely available in Jefferson City. A huge part of that can be attributed not only to the park system, which is amazing, but to the trees that line every street in the City. And do trees split, get diseases, and die sometimes? Sure they do. But do buildings require maintenance? Of course. Cities shoudl regard maintenance of their living infrastructure as just another essential cost, just like the maintenance of their non-living infrastructure.

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