Centers And Squares
Welcome to Centers and Squares
As a Cambridge real estate agent, the city squares of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford and the town centers of Arlington, Watertown and Belmont, Massachusetts are my home turf. And as a lifelong New Englander who’s lived within twenty miles of Boston most of my life, I can introduce you to other nearby towns as we search for your new home. If you’re planning to sell your home in Cambridge, MA or nearby you’ll find plenty of info about the home selling process here too. Questions? Send me an email or call me at 617-504-1737.
Dying and Dead Trees
Have you noticed all the dead and dying trees? If you haven’t you’re not paying attention – and you’re not alone. Dead trees are everywhere. Many more are dying or not doing well at all. Few people seem aware of the problem however and there’s little information to be found about it.
But drive around Massachusetts and you’re bound to spot dying and dead trees if you look. Anywhere you go – Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Concord, Winchester, New Hampshire – anywhere and everywhere you drive through.
I started noticing them last year. I became a bit obsessed and would play the “dead tree game” wherever I drove. Passengers would initially be a bit taken aback as I called out “Dead tree!” over and over again, but eventually they too would join in.
My obsession was lifted only when winter came and the lack of leaves made it impossible to distinguish the dead trees. Since the no-leaves season is fast approaching I urge you to be on the lookout now as you’re walking or driving around – you’re sure to see dead or unhealthy trees all around.
One reason that few people seem to be aware of what’s happening is that the dead trees get cut down. I’d been planning to photograph the dead trees as evidence for some time but was finally motivated to do so after a particularly beautiful (but dead) tree that could be seen from Mass Ave disappeared. Already several dead trees in the slideshow have been removed.
The photos I took for this slideshow, in August mind you when trees should be fully covered in green leaves, show trees in Cambridge with a few from Somerville, Medford and Watertown. Dead trees are everywhere in Cambridge – from Broadway to Brattle Street, from East Cambridge to West. Dead trees are in yards, parks, schoolgrounds, and everywhere lining the streets. We’ve lost almost all of the last few years’ investment in street trees as well as many of the much older and larger trees that line the city sidewalks.
The trees you see here may very well be gone soon. Sadly there’ll be no shortage of subjects for next year’s slideshow as the dozens of very sick trees around town are likely to have died by next summer.
When my father identified one dead tree as an elm I realized that several of the most striking dead trees were some of the few remaining elms in the area, long-time survivors felled not by Dutch Elm disease but by whatever’s killing Massachusetts trees now. I drove by a few of my favorites. There are three stately elms in a row on Main Street in Medford. One appears in very bad shape and the other two don’t look their best. I stopped by Manassas Street where a huge gorgeous elm stood on the corner for decades. It had been fine when I last worked around the corner at Coldwell Banker so I was stunned to see that only a stump remained.
Other species that seem particularly hard hit are the copper beech and at least one type of maple. The glorious copper beech in front of the Cambridge Public Library is in terrible shape and can be seen in the slide show. You’ll see sickly maples everywhere with many bare branches and very small leaves. In many towns, in Massachusetts and NH, in yard after yard, some types of spruce trees were dead or dying. Oaks seem to be holding up better but when I walked past some of the majestic oaks along the Mystic River I realized that a number didn’t look well up close.
So what’s killing the trees in Massachusetts and NH?
I vote for drought and continued lack of water as a major cause. For at least the last two or three years, including this summer, we’ve been in a largely unacknowledged drought in the city. It was only last week that for the first time I heard a weatherman use the “d” word – until then the forecasters would simply celebrate the unending days of no rain. Even when rain was forecast, or when nearby towns got plenty of rain, the prevailing weather pattern meant that Cambridge area would get little or none. Trees often take years to succumb to drought and we can expect to continue to lose trees that are stressed from lack of water.
Street trees are particularly vulnerable – I could have added many, many photos to the slideshow of young and not-so-young street trees that have died. In part, I blame this on the very small ground area around many of the trees making it even more difficult for them to get adequate water. But drive down Powderhouse Boulevard from Route 16 and you’ll see many dying or dead trees despite the grassy median they grow in. Young street trees need to be watered regularly and since they’re not it’s not too surprising (though it’s very frustrating) that they’ve succumbed. But older street trees are dying too.
Over-salting is one reason that local trees near streets and highways are dying. Last winter I was mystified to see trees along Routes 2 and 16 that were totally white. Then I realized that they were coated in salt from top to bottom that had been made airborne by passing cars. Cities and towns need to cut back on the salt and everybody needs to buy snow tires, slow down, or stay off the roads when it’s stormy.
Invasive vines are another tree killer. Many times I’ve come across trees that have a lot of greenery with dead branches sticking out at the top. Since many of Cambridge’s trees have had the new growth at the top die off, I’ve often mistaken these trees for ones where only the new branches are affected. Look more closely however, and you realize that the greenery is actually leaves on the vine that’s killed the tree and the tree itself is now a dead host.
Is this the first stage of a changing landscape due to climate change? Most of the potential causes listed above can be lumped together under climate change. It’s difficult to imagine what our towns and cities will look like when the local climate no longer supports the trees we know and love. As a homeowner, it’s difficult to know what types of trees to plant – what will thrive here decades from now?
You can’t help but think that the wild weather we’ve experienced in the last few years is part of the changing climate. I’ve documented the downed trees from freak storms and microbursts more than once. The wild weather of a couple of weeks ago brought down more large trees locally – trees we really don’t have to spare.
Why Should We Care About Tree Loss?
I’m fully aware that not everyone is a fan of trees. I’ve had enough beautiful trees taken down near me by “tree haters” that I leap out of bed at any sound that suggests a chain saw is on the job. Some people see trees as a hassle – heaven forbid they have to rake – and others as a menace. Others value smooth pavement over driveway or sidewalk more than they do the tree. But it will be a sad place to live if we continue to lose trees at the current pace. And I’m afraid it’s a bit like the frog in the pot of water who fails to realize it’s getting hotter until too late. It’s easy to overlook how important the trees around us are until they’re gone. And then it will be decades before we can get back what we’ve lost.
Much of it boils down (no pun intended Mr. Frog) to quality of life. Without a decent tree canopy it will be a lot hotter around here. Acres of asphalt baking in the sun without benefit of trees’ shade make for a miserable summer. And it’s not just the lack of sun and daylight that make people feel gloomier in the winter – it’s the lack of greenery. A bare tree’s branches are a thing of beauty but nothing beats the new green leaves of spring. Here’s a super article on the impact of trees on human health and happiness.
Aesthetics are a huge part of trees’ value. There’s nothing more grim than a city street barren of trees. There are tree-less streets around here that are about as depressing a block as you’ll see. City greenery is one reason real estate tends to sell better in the spring – everything looks better when the leaves are back on the trees. Chances are almost any Cambridge street that you consider appealing is lined with trees. But perhaps not for long if something’s not done: one Avon Hill block I photographed had three or four huge trees reduced to stumps and several others dead or almost gone.
Property values are absolutely impacted by trees or the lack of trees. My own street in Cambridge was described as a “tree-lined bower” some decades ago. That’s far from the case now as almost all of the trees have been lost and not replaced. I showed one real estate buyer a condo on my block and she turned up her nose and said “but there aren’t any trees on this street”. Needless to say, a sale was not made that day.
Privacy is another benefit of our city trees that’s often overlooked until a tree is gone. Most of us would far rather have our views framed in leaves than be staring into our next door neighbor’s house. It’s easy to take for granted just how much a tree blocks from view.
What Can Be Done About the Dying Trees?
While some of reasons trees are dying may be beyond our individual control there are things we can do:
Water the trees for cripes sake! Whether it’s a tree in your yard, a tree in front of your house, or a tree outside your office – get a bucket and get watering. The trees need regular watering and need water as they head into winter.
Consult an arborist about any distressed trees in your yard. I’ve got one of mine on a regular treatment plan for winter moths. I just wish I could get the raggedy, beleaguered street trees sprayed as well.
Encourage the city to water the trees they plant. Trees need a great deal of water when they’re first transplanted. City trees never seem to get what they need. The lack of rain has exacerbated the problem resulting in the death of almost all the youngest trees. Can’t we give some kids a job for the summer?
Talk to your representatives about using less salt or de-icer in the winter months. It’s better for trees and for local ponds, streams and lakes.
Become better stewards of the tree canopy. It’s a mixed bag around here in terms of what towns and cities are doing to ensure a healthy tree canopy. Cambridge has hearings about cutting down street trees but I’m not sure it makes any difference. Far too many trees aren’t replaced. Brookline’s magnificent tree canopy puts Cambridge’s motley treescape to shame. What have they been doing right? Medford calls itself a “Tree City” but its streets are often tree-free or what trees are there end up getting mutilated for overhead wires.
Actually become a tree steward. Every year Massachusetts offers a two-day tree steward training. The training is held in a rural area but there’s also an emphasis on the health and maintenance of urban trees.
Plant trees. Plant a tree in your yard or work with the city to get street trees planted or replanted on your block. It’s hard to know what trees will do well going forward. What will our climate be like 30, 40, 60 years from now? Recently it seems the newer oak trees the city planted seem to be doing well – their roots go down deep and they seem to do better finding enough water.
Press for answers about the problem of dying trees. We need to start asking questions. It’s too easy to overlook the die-off of trees as the dead ones are cut down and lost from memory. Something’s happening though and we need to find out the causes before it’s too late.
Here’s some more from the internet about trees dying: