You’re looking at a newly-upgraded sidewalk just one block over from my house. These houses face south, as does my house. And on this block, as on my block, there are no driveways, the homes having been built in the pre-car era. Everyone has a narrow front yard, often unfenced, and probably a small and oddly-shaped backyard. That’s just how this neighborhood works.
When the sidewalks get upgraded, the street trees go in. A great many civic-minded folk around here think that street trees are a wonderful idea, and think fondly of grand old cities with grand old trees that meet in the middle of the street. I think those things are grand, too, but the sight of them just a block from my house (are they getting closer? am I next?) fills me with dread.
Why? Simple. South-facing sunlight is hard to come by generally; it’s especially important in fogbound Eureka, where we shiver in our sweaters all summer long. Street trees are wonderful in cities that need shade; that’s not exactly a problem here. My south-facing front yard is the only place that gets full sun. Having sun hit the front of the house, unimpeded by trees, keeps it warm.
Also: old sewer lines. Tree roots. Homeowner pays. ‘Nuff said.
And: overhead power lines. You see all those power lines? The trees will grow right up into that nasty tangle of wires, and when the wind whips up off the Pacific in the winter, the last thing you want is a tree anywhere within spitting distance of a power line.
And: sidewalk pop-upage. There’s evidence of tree roots busting up pavement all over town. Messes up wheelchair access, causes people to trip, and looks awful. Our cash-strapped city can barely keep up with the potholes as it is. Oh, but wait. The city doesn’t have to repair those sidewalks, does it? I forgot; technically, sidewalk maintenance is the homeowner’s responsibility.
Finally: the tree itself. I’m not sure what these are, but just behind me they’ve planted big ol’ magnolias in the sidewalk. My parents have the same species in front of their house, and it’s a chore to keep it trimmed, deal with its messy droppings, and find anything at all that will grow underneath it. As a gardener, I just hate the idea of having a big, demanding plant stuck right in front of my house and placed under my care.
So I dread the day when our well-meaning city workers show up to do some work on our street that involves re-doing the sidewalk. I’m going to have to go demand that when tree-planting day arrives, they skip my house. I’ll be the Grinch That Hates Street Trees, and people will hate me for hating the trees. Isn’t civic life wonderful? For now, I hope my crumbling old sidewalk is allowed to crumble a while longer.