Thursday, June 20, 2024

The remains of two Linear Park trees in North Cambridge. A green asbestos decontamination tent is seen in the background. (Photo: Charles Teague)

The desecration of our public parks continues. Last Thursday, I saw that two magnolia trees 10 feet inside Linear Park had been snapped off at their base for the redevelopment of the W.R. Grace site in North Cambridge. This mistake was the result of the developer moving its construction fence 12 feet into the park. The developer also moved its asbestos decontamination tent to the park boundary, set its exhaust fans on park land and aimed those fans to blow into our park. City personnel either knew or should have known that park trees were on the developer side of the fence without any protection.

Now you may say “it’s only two trees.” But it’s two more trees in addition to three more trees cut down illegally Dec. 2 on Madison Avenue, the 155 more trees approved to be cut down for the Jefferson Park redevelopment, about 100 more trees to be cut down at MIT’s Volpe development and the eight more trees to be cut down at Carl Barron Plaza. Sadly, this is only a partial list.

Our Urban Forest Master Plan calls specifically for increasing the number of trees in parks as well as increasing the number of parks. The UFMP task force understood that parks are supposed to be a safe space where trees can thrive, as opposed to the harsh environment street trees endure.

Additionally, these were mature trees that had not only survived the historic droughts of 2016 and 2022 but have gone decades without fertilizer and irrigation but with an abundance of winter rock salt.

An asbestos decontamination tent with blower is seen at right as women and a baby stroll down the Linear Park. (Photo: Charles Teague)

Mismanagement of our parks is nothing new. My Sept. 21 letter cited city management’s “baroque and broken” organizational structure, which likely led to the downfall of more than 100 trees due to the city’s failure to repair the Danehy Park irrigation system in a timely way. It ended with:

Our new city manager should reorganize existing staff into an independent Parks & Trees Department with a mission statement implementing the existing tree master plan and, for parks, balancing priorities of green open space with healthy trees and recreation facilities to maximize public health.

This has not happened. Instead, inappropriately trained staff have been assigned to redesign our Linear Park, despite the existing design being award-winning. That they’re inappropriately trained is proven by the flawed land survey, which was critical for determining that the trees destroyed by the developer were our park trees. The survey specification itself was defective, as it excluded all recently planted trees – maybe $100,000 worth. Additionally, 43 mature trees, nine ranging in diameter from 13 inches to 20 inches, were omitted, for a total of 160 park trees missing from the survey.

City-owned Linear Park trees are inside a developer’s fence, and lacking the wood boards typically put up to protect trunks. (Photo: Charles Teague)

Our city staff didn’t notice these many defects. I reviewed the survey and submitted detailed corrections. After a month, there is no word for even an estimated delivery date for a corrected survey, let alone a corrected survey itself. We deserve better for our tax dollars.

Once again, I call for city management to reorganize the management of our public parks. More immediately, all park trees near the W.R. Grace redevelopment must have their trunks and roots protected from construction activity, and the developer’s fence must be removed from our park.

To be clear, the tree loss in Linear Park and this summer’s massive tree loss in Danehy Park are a result of historic top-level mismanagement. What is unacceptable is not fixing the system.

If you want to further help preserve our parks and tree canopy, email [email protected]

Charles Teague has been advocating for preserving the tree canopy and Linear Park since 2016.