The sixty year old trees in Bainbridge park are gone. In the battle, nay war, against homeless people sitting on the grass, every element of grace or accommodation in the park has been removed. The benches went first, then the grills where generations of families cooked hot dogs. Then the little trees where the kids liked to play, and now the great old trees that defined the park and gave it decency and shade and character. They were cut down with a ruthlessness that really should tell us something.
The security cameras are in since Mayberry. The police can now rejoice that there’s not even a shadow where any weary wayfarer can hide. I have seen similar parks in Newark and Harlem where every vestige of convenience was ripped out of a park by a hostile civic authority bent on making the point that local government represented people other than those who habitually used the park. In Harlem even the grass went. We still have grass, but the rest of the park looks like the vacant lot it has become.
The community resentment of raggedy looking folk sitting around Bainbridge was deep and intractable. The City Manager and her crew of operatives had been stalling on improvements to the park for years. Bainbridge was a textbook example of the timeless inefficiency and all-encompassing incompetence that characterizes the self described super hero bureaucrats at city hall. After years and years the grindingly slow machinery of the Ruffing planning department was possibly inching its way toward the Bainbridge park “improvements,” just in time to coincide with the vivid wrath of the people of the city about the takeover of the Old Coast Hotel as a homeless center by he machinery of autocratic bureaucracy majestically indifferent to community outrage.That outrage found a little focus in the Old Coast Hotel. In consecutive city council elections the whole city council crew got the boot. Turner survived by 40 votes; the rest of them got walking papers. In the limelight and the defensive mode the City Manager, with trademark smiley insouciance, declared that things at Bainbridge were moving at last. The urban planners under her command provided an outline of options to the people who lived near the park. Having just completed their movement of the homeless into the heart of the city in the teeth of community opposition the City Manager was now entertaining suggestions about how they might be kept out of the city park. They concluded that an iron fence around the park would at least slow them down. The community was not informed that emplacement of the iron fence required the removal of the great trees. Go figure.
If I had not raised the issue of the trees with the Mayor, city management would not have had to corrupt an employee. But I did and so with a professionally straight face city hall made an off-hand concession to responsibility more shameful and distasteful than if they had simply gone chopping with no caveats.
Allen Palacios who cheerfully collects his weekly paycheck from the city was asked to provide cover for his boss. He gravely wrote a letter for the city manager to the city manager in which he slandered the trees in the name of his renown as a gardener declaring that the trees were dangerous and diseased. He himself announced that he had removed twigs (his words) from the ground under the trees and had been told once that swarms of beetles had arisen from the stumps of the smaller trees on the other side of the park when they were cut down to make the view clear for the new security cameras. That settled the matter. Mr Palacios’s in-house recommendations were intended to reassure the community that even if everybody involved was on the same payroll they could be trusted without question. Indeed, questions were not permitted or entertained. The propaganda letter was well-received at city hall. Mr. Palacios’s job security was ensured and the folks around the park who gathered in quiet groups to observe the solid wood sections of the slaughtered trees got to suck eggs.
The promised iron fence, described to me by Mayor Lindy Peters as a psychological tool to deter the use of the park by homeless people now had an unobstructed right of way. Everyone was happy.
They told me when I appeared in depression at city hall to stare at the tree killers that a branch might possibly have fallen and someone could have been wounded. That no branch had fallen in the 60 years since the trees were planted is not a definitive argument, I grant. But no branches had fallen. I have read on google that beetles — if there were any — are not a terminal problem but tend to occur in times of drought. I would have liked a second opinion, maybe from the Garden Club on a matter of community importance. It would not have cost anything.
I would have thought that if the trees were in some manner distressed that treatment, care, a little love, a trifling of respect might have been at least tried. They did not try, they did not care, they did not want the trees obstructing their vision of an open, controlled fenced-off empty space filled with plastic and devoid of history or character. A second opinion might have been asked for by the mayor. I was on his case about the trees and he reassured me, sucker that I was.
Now the big trees are gone. They will put in little ones. I mostly blame myself. I knew what they had in mind but I did not work enough. I did not try enough. I let it happen by indifference. There are other issues before the council and the community. They all depend on judgment, courage, and community involvement. The cost to the community will be very great if they are decided in contempt of the public interest or without concern for values that the community understands, but the highly paid urban planning drones can not and do not remotely comprehend. Maybe the big old trees can help us yet.