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Editorial: Schenectady should spare trees, spoil sidewalks

Editorial: Schenectady should spare trees, spoil sidewalks

Cutting down old trees to make way for new sidewalks isn't justified

Schenectady has thousands of stately old-growth trees, and miles of sidewalks that have suffered cracks, heaves and chips as a result of roots that seem to grow as thick and as long underground as the branches above.

Reconciling the competing interests of people who like trees and people who think sidewalks should be as navigable as an indoor shopping mall corridor is a common dilemma for urban engineers, and a fairly ticklish one. But as Stockade resident Liz Kemp indicated in yesterday’s Gazette story, the trees deserve priority: They were there first.

As important as good sidewalks are to an urban streetscape, trees are more so. At least in a historic neighborhood like Schenectady’s Stockade.

The trees, which are not only aesthetically pleasing but provide shade and oxygen while removing carbon, are as much a part of the Stockade’s charm, and attraction to residents and tourists, as the neighborhood’s centuries-old architecture. Take either one away and the Stockade isn’t going to be the same. Of course, you couldn’t tear down a single house in the Stockade without a fight from the city’s Historic District Commission — and a deserved one at that. Nor are you allowed to cut down any trees in a historic district in Schenectady without getting the commission’s consent — unless, apparently, your chain saw bears the “City of Schenectady” stamp on it.

We’re relieved that the public’s attention has been called to city engineers’ plan to remove any tree along Washington Avenue whose roots are considered likely threats to the new sidewalk project there. Between the Stockade residents and City Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard quoted in yesterday’s Gazette story, it’s obvious that there’s vigorous opposition to the plan, and city officials can’t pretend otherwise.

They need to listen. It is possible to constrict or reroute sidewalks around the trees, as was done on Lowell Road, in another of the city’s historic neighborhoods, last fall. And if that simply can’t be done, then patch as effectively as possible or don’t do anything. It takes decades — far too long — to recover from overzealous tree-cutting the likes of which occurred on Seward Place in 1999 and on North Ferry Street in 2008.

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