Solving Cities

Trees turn deadly in New York City

Trees turn deadly in New York City

Posting in Cities

If the rent doesn't kill you, New York City's trees will. The question is, who is to blame?

The only way to avoid death by tree is to have no trees at all.

This sounds like a futuristic adage, but according to Adrian Benepe, the New York City parks commissioner, there is only one way to assure the gooey rotten limbs of a great maple, oak, or elm never strike again.

“The only absolute correction would be to have no trees at all, which would mean a city with much dirtier air, hotter temperatures, polluted water, and desertlike streets and public places — in short a city that would be neither healthful nor livable,” said Mr. Benepe.

Removing the trees from New York City is not an option.  By pointing to this, Mr. Benepe is also saying the city cannot prevent all future deaths caused by trees. And this quandary is at the heart of the debate.

Who is responsible for these deaths?

William Glaberson and Lisa W. Foderaro of The New York Times ask, "How much responsibility does the city have for protecting people who pass beneath its graceful elms, oaks and maples? Lawyers for the injured and dead have argued for more, while lawyers for the city have argued for less; in at least two recent cases, the city’s position has been rejected by appeals courts."

While the number of tree injuries is relatively small - 51 people between 2006 and 2011, including two deaths - evidence suggests that with proper city care the worst cases could have been avoided.

According to Glaberson and Foderaro, "The struggle will only get more challenging: New York City is more than halfway to its goal of planting a million more trees."

Read about the most recent cases here.

Image: Flickr/Ella's Dad

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Sonya James

Contributing Writer

Sonya James is a multimedia producer based in New York. With creativity and innovation in mind, she speaks to diverse voices on topics from racism in the art world to the patriotic nature of southern food. She holds a Masters Degree in Community Development. Disclosure