As residents of Oak Park and landscape architecture professionals, we have strong feelings about the three motions up for review Sept. 8. How these motions are resolved will have substantial impact on how our neighborhoods look and feel for many years. We’ll take each motion by turn. If you’re an Oak Park resident interested in trees, read on.

1) Increase minimum spacing of parkway trees from 35 feet to 50

Note the word “minimum.”

Oak Park is not an arboretum, nor should it be. In an arboretum, trees are broadly spaced so that over many, many years they can develop a form that typifies the species. On urban parkways, we believe that 35 feet is a good minimum spacing that allows adequate flexibility, good shade coverage, and works with Oak Park’s varied parkway dimensions and lot sizes. As neighboring trees at this spacing mature over time, they learn to live together, their overlapping branches knitting into a leafy canopy.

Following is a list of parkway tree spacing figures from several other municipalities:

Chicago: 25 feet

Downers Grove: 40 feet

Evanston: 35 feet

Glenview: 35 feet

River Forest: 25 feet

Skokie: 30 feet

2) Determination on whether to restore Oak Park’s 2009 parkway tree planting budget of $100,000

The village did not do a spring 2009 tree planting as it usually does. At the Sept. 8 board meeting, the decision will be made whether to cut, partially restore, or fully restore the standard annual $100,000 tree planting budget.

Because so much of the urban forest – private and public – has been hit, we can’t skip a year. It shouldn’t even be an option. Trees are dying at an alarming rate. As of July 14 (per a Wednesday Journal article on that date), the village had lost 184 trees for the year, with 64 American elms dead from Dutch elm disease and 35 green ash dead from emerald ash borer. And that was just mid-July. If you drive around this summer, you see many stumps, white dots on trunks, and thinning crowns. In addition to parkway trees, trees on private property are also affected, and emerald ash borer, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, is claiming more ash.

There’s no reason to think that the next several years will spare more trees or provide a larger tree budget. Come on, folks, $100,000 is exceedingly modest as an annual tree-planting budget for a place famous for its trees.

3) Planting 1.5-inch caliper shade trees in addition to 2.5-inch caliper trees

A 1.5-inch caliper shade tree is quite a small tree and is more susceptible to vandalism than a 2.5-inch caliper shade tree. Branching is not as well-formed and it may have to be staked and trained, which means increased maintenance and cost. We cannot think of any parkway situations where a 1.5-inch caliper tree should be planted over a 2.5-inch caliper tree. A decision to consider these smaller trees would seem to have arisen chiefly out of budget considerations. Trees are too important to Oak Park to reduce tree-planting size.

Please consider attending the Sept. 8 village board meeting to join in the vital discussion about the future of Oak Park’s parkway trees.

Karen Heller and fellow Oak Parkers Carol Yetken and Mark Finger run CYLA Design Associates, a landscape architecture firm in Oak Park.

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