Save the Newton Free Library parking lot trees, and plant more!

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Julia Malakie
Julia Malakie signed this petition

The Library parking lot is one of the few in Newton, Mass., with a significant number of interior trees, including a 30” red oak, 17” white oak, and an elm, a London plane tree, and sugar maples planted several years ago and now established. Existing grass islands have room to plant at least 15 more trees.

For a second time, our City administration is proposing to remove these trees in order to install solar carports, as one of 17 Phase 3 Solar sites on municipal property. And unlike the previous attempt in 2016, which the City Council rejected, 15-8, the current proposal would cut all 12 interior trees, even the 30” oak, and also replace all the grass islands with asphalt to increase parking spaces.

Please help us save these trees, and support the principle of trees in public spaces, by signing our petition.

Some reasons we feel the City’s plan is misguided:

— The Newton Free Library was built in a flood zone on what was previously open space. Before 1989, the parking lot was a forest. Also partially in the flood zone, it has flooded in heavy rains. Trees reduce stormwater runoff and flooding. Intercepted rain landing on leaves and branches is stored or evaporated, and roots absorb water. This parking lot needs more trees, and better utilization of the islands for planting diverse native species — not more asphalt.

— Newton’s Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment & Action Plan (Dec 2018 Final Draft) stresses the critical role of trees in mitigating the effects of climate change on Newton. Its recommendations include “removing asphalt, planting trees, and installing green or white roofs to cool “hot spots”" and “identifying locations where soil will support stormwater infiltration, and increasing tree planting to address net losses and increase tree canopy.”

— Newton has already lost much tree canopy. Street trees are down in number by half, from over 40,000 in the early 1970s. Forested acreage has declined about 20% in 25 years, according to the Open Space & Recreation Plan. We continue to lose trees to development, as well as drought, damage from extreme storms, and invasive pests. We will have to work hard to stay even. Rather than moving five small but established trees, and planting 68 new ‘replacement’ trees elsewhere as the City promises, we should be preserving our existing trees and planting new trees in those plantable spots.

—Both trees and carports provide shade, reducing the heat island effect, but trees also cool the air by transpiration of water through their leaves, and improve the air we breathe by adding oxygen and reducing particulates and other air pollutants.

— Climate change is a crisis, but City government could do much more to increase the use of renewable energy by requiring new construction to meet ambitious standards for solar roofs (as Watertown has recently done) if it applied the same sense of urgency as is currently being applied to the Library solar project.

— Creating additional parking to gain support for replacing trees with carports is inconsistent with City policy elsewhere, which argues for reduced parking to reduce car trips and promote alternate modes of transportation.

— The parking lot was designed to be compatible with the Olmstead Brothers-designed grounds of City Hall across the street, at the time the Library was built. It already reflects a compromise, between those who wanted maximum parking, and those who wanted no trees cut.

— Some who work and have expertise in the solar industry have questioned whether the Phase 3 Solar vendors are getting a great deal financially at the City's expense. We should not let our eagerness to reduce carbon footprint allow our elected representatives to accept a deal that is not the best it could be, nor sacrifice public assets like trees for profit.

— Trees enhance our public spaces, changing with the seasons, lifting our spirits, even in winter, with the promise of spring in their buds. Artists paint trees; they rarely paint carports.