LETTER: Why We Need More Trees in Watertown


The Washington Post yesterday included an article about how climate change is worsening right now during the pandemic. It is not stopping for us to fight the pandemic or for anything else. Despite a temporary clearing of smog, the writer says, “the romantic vision of nature “healing” itself was always an illusion … carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are the highest they’ve been in human history, and possibly higher than in the past 3 million years.

The specter of man-made climate change looms all the more ominously over a planet in the grips of a viral pandemic.” The authors go on to talk about “giant plumes of Saharan dust that wafted over the Atlantic … choking a whole swath of the southern United States,” swarms of locusts already reaching New Delhi, and multiple swarms of desert insects ravaging Africa, and expected to move north into South Asia, and other horrors.  (The article is by Ishaan Tharoor and its title is “The world’s climate catastrophe worsens amid the pandemic.”)

So we see even the temporary decrease in driving etc. during the pandemic has not helped, and now it’s INSANE for every city not to do all it can to help slow global warming, and that includes planting every tree and plant we can in Watertown, including breaking up unused asphalt and putting trees there too.

Also, the streets on the hottest days are miserable to ride or walk on in summer when there are no trees, and if we don’t get out and move we’ll be much less healthy mentally and physically and won’t get to know our neighbors.  

Animals who live and nest in the trees also desperately need them and are important links in our ecosystem.

The air is unfortunately still filled with way too much exhaust from cars, diesel vehicles, leaf-blowers, and more, and trees will help us keep the air a little less toxic. The ground beneath the trees will drain better, and sidewalks with trees in them must have that soil which decreases the amount of non-porous concrete.

Trees are major parts of the nature we all desperately need more of in cities. Researchers insist we suffer mentally and physically when we are starved for nature, and most of us are. Also, given the scary nature of climate change, it will boost hope and help decrease depression and anxiety for people to see beautiful trees being planted, and knowing they will help.

Trees are beautiful, and a variety of wonderful trees such as those recently planted on Edgecliff in East Watertown is inspiring to see as we travel down the street. That variety of trees can also be used to teach children about the great diversity we find in nature.

Susan Cooke and Victor Preston
Watertown Residents

21 thoughts on “LETTER: Why We Need More Trees in Watertown

  1. It is true that many streets in Watertown, and in particular the East End where I live, are bereft of trees. My street is not and that is one reason why I chose to live there. But several old trees have come down and have not been replaced. I fear that soon my street will be without a significant inventory of trees.

    Trees provide so many benefits that their importance cannot be underestimated. There are numerous environmental benefits, as mentioned in this letter, but there is also the improvement in quality of life provided by a healthy population of trees. They make life more pleasant and a street more attractive in many ways.

    The town should make it a priority to increase Watertown’s inventory and diversity of trees. Future generations will be thankful for such an effort.

  2. Just last week the town planted a maple tree in front of my house as a replacement to the dead tree they took down last fall, so it appears a program is established. What is the proposal other than “more”? Where are areas of concern here in Watertown?

    • Many of the trees planted by the town are not properly cared for and never establish themselves. If the town would provide the green bags on the stakes on either side of a sapling , perhaps a resident living nearby could be recruited to “adopt” the tree and fill the bags with water once or twice a month to make sure the tree survives. It would also help a great deal if there were curbs to protect trees planted in the green strips as cars park on any strip that has no curb and tear up the earth.

      • Hi, Rena: Thanks for emphasizing the importance of keeping new street trees watered. Unlike trees in lawns, it’s almost impossible to overwater a tree in the planting strip.

        By the way, Bob DiRico is installing a watering bag on each stake with new tree plantings as standard procedure.

    • Hi, MO: You raise really important issues, which the Town intended to start addressing comprehensively with the creation of a full time Forestry Supervisor/Tree Warden position. Unfortunately we lost our first FS/TW to Quincy last November, and Watertown has been having difficulty recruiting a qualified replacement. If you know anyone with strong qualifications in urban forestry and great communication skills who might be looking for a position like this, please let them know! Details on the DPW jobs webpage.

  3. There are areas of concern all over Watertown, but in general Watertown needs more green acreage as we are far below the recommended percentage of green space per 1000 residents. I believe it is 10 acres/1000, and we have something like 3.7/1000. Correct me if I’m wrong on those facts…..

    • Yet, Watertown continues to allow more residential building. One house is torn down only to have two or more residences constructed on the same lot.

  4. I am always open to more trees. My partner and I lived on Orchard St. for 14 years, lost a dying maple out front and replaced it with an Eastern redbud. But, it is a slow grower. Now on Worcester St., the back yard is filled with old, large trees, albeit illegal to plant Norway maples now, and the cooling shade is immense.

    A service berry tree is going in out front and I’d love another tree. The air is clearer and cleaner with trees around.

  5. I had a tree planted in front of my house last year and “donated” ninety nine dollars
    to the town. I got a tree and two 2/3 wooden braces to support the tree. That was it.

    Now I see new trees that are coming with green watering bags. I’ve been told that the town will provide the bags at no cost. How do I get one?

    • Hi, Bill:

      Try calling DPW at (617) 972-6420 to leave a message for Bob DiRico giving the address and the request. He’s super busy, covering both his regular full time job plus working on the CPC plus filling in on full-time Forestry Supervisor/Tree Warden responsibilities while the Town’s looking for a qualified replacement, but my experience is he’ll be in touch as soon as he can.

  6. Next spring 2021, we need to launch a town-wide, citizen-driven Greening Watertown initiative with or without the aid of a new tree warden. Watertown doesn’t have years to wait. We must recruit and mobilize residents to go door-to-door to raise awareness for the need for street trees and then convince home and business owners to take on the responsibility of tending to a sapling. I’m up for the challenge. Anyone else?

    • Hi, Jennifer: You’re absolutely right about the urgency and importance of increasing Watertown’s tree population, on both public and private land.

      Trees on public land are the responsibility of the Town and must be overseen by the Forestry Supervisor, with a long range strategy for planting, maintenance, protection and species diversity. The competition is fierce for good professional urban foresters but with renewed effort by the Town we WILL have a FS/TW again soon.

      Meanwhile, there’s a huge opportunity to increase tree canopy on private property. Trees have longer, healthier lifetimes when they’re in a space with plenty of moisture and soil volume, with less exposure to the salt, limited space, soil compaction, and risk of damage that come with living on the street.

      Trees for Watertown and the Watertown Environment & Energy Efficiency Committee were planning to hold a public symposium on Trees & Climate Change last April 4, with the aim of engaging Watertownians in planting more trees on their own properties. There’s a lot of potential interest in this in Watertown.

      Unfortunately COVID-19 canceled that date, and we’re now rescheduled for March 20, 2021. If you’re interested, we’d be delighted to have your participation when plans start up again. You can contact either myself through the TFW website or the WE3C through the Town website.

  7. I’m wondering how many of the people that think the number one priority in Watertown right now is that “we need more trees” are tax paying residents?

    Probably not too many.

    Much more important issues that this town needs to prioritize and trees are at the bottom of the list.

  8. We must also advocate for the purchase of open space, or any space that can be turned into open space. Hopefully the CPA money can help with that….

  9. I am hoping that we are able to recruit as good a tree warden as we lost. I am not hopeful though. The town doesn’t offer competitive salaries and DPW politics are disheartening at best.
    I rue the loss of our tree canopy all over Watertown. There have been a few planted on my street, but no communication about what we can do to help with the maintenance. It would be nice to have a small instructional flyer to leave with neighbors when a new tree is planted. I bet many would step up. Be glad to help with that flyer.

    • Hi Marcia: Trees for Watertown just finished a tree care flyer for new street trees! Waiting for Bob DiRico’s approval. Hoping to distribute it next week.

  10. Thank you Susan and Victor for your letter. And for all the great conversation that this has started.

    Since 1985 “Trees for Watertown” (http://treesforwatertown.org) has been promoting the importance of the urban forest in our community. As a board member for the past 3 years, I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished, including a well-attended symposium last year, a Teens for Trees (http://tfwteensfortrees.org) summer program, and a community-led street tree inventory (http://opentreemap.org/watertownma). We encourage interested residents to join us in our work with all of your wonderful ideas. There’s lots of work to be done to make sure that we can make our community (and our planet) healthier and more livable for all.

  11. Well done Ms. Cooke and Mr. Preston, you clearly state the case for enhancing our green inventory here in our home town.  Sure, there are other problems that need attention, but addressing our urban forest is one area where we can have a huge impact, both short and long term, for little investment.   If we don’t plant now, we’ll have nothing in 50 years.
    My two cents – plant out those prepared spots on Baptist Walk.  The spaces are there, and it would mitigate the blighted look of that area.  Right now the only bright spot is the murals.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Let’s do everything we can now to make Watertown green, beautiful and healthy for ourselves now and for those who will come after us.

  12. Thank you for a wonderful conversation. I’m thinking that the little traffic islands you see all over Seattle on tiny street intersections and big ones would help in a number of ways. Neighbors plant them with trees and flowers for year round pleasure. They slow down traffic as well. Many of these circles have some sort of bench so neighbors can rest and talk. More green in unexpected spots. Permeable spots and beautiful ones. Let’s take back our public spaces and make cars share the streets with people. Perfect for Watertown. Google Seattle traffic circles to get an idea. Barbara R

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