The "greening" of New York City would make another fine legacy for the Giuliani administration: a physical transformation as lasting as the bridges, roads, and parks created by Robert Moses. Trees make the city a calmer, less alienating place. Some of the city's dingier thoroughfares cry out for green shade: 14th Street, 8th Street, Houston Street.
Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern supports an "arboreal renaissance," and the mayor himself endorsed the idea in 1996 when he signed the Tree Protection Act into law. (The act increased the penalty for "arboricide" to $15,000 per tree and up to a year in jail.) But budget constraints handicap Stern and his department: the city allocates only $9.7 million for tree planting in 1998, enough for approximately 12,000 new trees. This sounds like a lot, but since more than two-thirds of these new trees die, the city could use at least 8,000 more.
So, sensibly, the city has made it possible for members of the public to have a tree planted on the sidewalk for a contribution of $500. In addition, Trees New York—a private charitable agency—encourages citizens to use this service and teaches them how to maintain the trees, once planted. But their combined efforts haven't been enough to make the city bloom.
If Stern wants to unleash public generosity to make New York greener, he should imitate the money-raising techniques of private citizen groups like the Central Park Conservancy. New York's benefactors like to see their altruism publicly recognized. At present, though, anyone who donates a tree to his block can do so only anonymously. If your horti-cultural gift brought a little metal plate proclaiming your generosity—like those the Conservancy puts on its donated benches—then many more New Yorkers would participate.
People could give trees in the name of others: family members, friends, even beloved pets. If such tree giving were to prove successful, the city could expand the program to allow the public to donate elegant street furniture such as benches, bus shelters, or reproduction Beaux Arts lampposts like those that recently went up on West 90th Street.