IT is said that what happens in New York happens in London 10 years later. This is apparently true of disco, crack cocaine and cupcakes.
The New York scene right now is all about trees. Salted caramel frozen yoghurt is big too, but urban forestry puts this kind of thing in the shade.
There is some argument over who is to blame for the reforesting, though Bette Midler seems to be partly responsible. The actress, singer and force of nature moved back to New York in 1994, at a time when city parks were generally used to store burnt-out cars.
Midler founded the New York Restoration Project and it was soon buying vacant lots and turning them into community gardens. These were a huge hit, bigger than anything she achieved in a sequined mermaid outfit. Soon she was hassling Mayor Michael Bloomberg to plant more trees.
Her pleas were bolstered by the US Forest Service, which surveyed the city’s 5.2 million trees and determined that they saved $US11.2 million ($17.2m) a year in heating and air-conditioning bills and did $US10.6m of work removing pollutants from the air.
“Suddenly, we were able to quantify the benefits in dollars,” says Morgan Monaco, of the New York Parks Department.
She and her colleagues regularly pushed for urban reforesting, but now they could show City Hall the fruits of their arbors, the money that grows on trees. Every dollar invested produced a $US5.60 return.
There were complaints when Bloomberg proposed planting one million trees, but this is New York. Phyllis Diller claimed that “any time three New Yorkers get into a cab without an argument, a bank has just been robbed”.
And New Yorkers have a particularly intimate relationship with their streets, which function as living rooms for shoebox-sized studio apartments. Planting even a nice Norwegian maple can cause uproar. A lady in the Bronx declared that having one planted outside her house was “a disaster”.
So it is not easy being a tree in New York. But, somehow, the trees can stand it.
To mangle Frank Sinatra: if you can maple here, you can maple anywhere.
Which brings us back to London. Urban tree populations are in decline: the charity Trees for Cities is seeking to reverse this trend and campaigning for a London-wide, tree-pronged strategy for growth. Londoners should support their efforts. After all, trees are – prepare for laboured gag – mulch better than cocaine, disco and cupcakes.