Who will speak for the trees?

Environmentalists create a close-knit community

A group of environmental preservationists is calling attention to tree preservation by "yarn bombing" five trees at Morris Park.
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A group of environmental preservationists is calling attention to tree preservation by "yarn bombing" five trees at Morris Park.

Bayonne’s dedicated group of tree preservationists are continuing to lobby to save five tall sophora and mulberry trees at Morris Park on 46th Street and Broadway. The trees are at risk of being destroyed by proposed scaffolding for a neighboring real estate development.

The Morris Park Neighborhood Association is bringing attention to the social and environmental value of trees with an art installation called “Who Will Speak for the Trees?” The developer of the neighboring ten-story residential building that replaced the former Resnick’s Hardware store, has permission to take down the trees for scaffolding, but has not taken that step. The Bayonne City Council said that it would be notified before that happens and notify the neighborhood association.

A good yarn

The group will host a free plant swap and neighborhood gathering on June 8 from 10 a.m. to noon where people can exchange a cactus for a fern or a money tree for a rubber tree.

The idea for the action came about from years of environmental advocacy by Jill Scipione, who noticed trees in a park on Christopher Street in Manhattan that was decorated with yarn. She and her husband, Jim Pusterino, work with developmentally disabled adults at the Windmill Alliance who helped make Bayonne’s crocheted yarn chains.

This form of street art is called “yarn bombing” or “guerilla knitting,” and it’s been used throughout the world as a form of civil disobedience to call attention to an issue. The alternatives of graffiti and paint could harm the trees.

“It’s a very positive and beautiful way of creating an artistic experience for people, that calls attention to the trees,” said Pusterino. “I think it would be great if the community can have that sense of caring here.”

“We’re doing this to give a voice to communities,” said Scipione, who has spoken at council meetings to advocate for more trees throughout the city and to preserve the ones already there. “Neighborhoods are defined by their parks, and they need to be protected.”

Trees versus pavement

Trees have always held a special place in human society. In fiction, trees are depicted as the wise keepers of knowledge. Recent scientific study has shown that trees communicate through vast networks of fungi between disparate roots. In urban culture, trees are valued for the shade of their canopies, the oxygen antidote to carbon pollution, the capture of water that prevents flooding, and the absorption of sound. Trees also signify a sense of safety. Our primate ancestors climbed up to the branches to escape predators.

According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. loses 36 million urban trees every year while impervious cover, such as pavement and buildings, has increased significantly. Urban trees help moderate climate, reduce carbon emissions, improve the quality of air and water, and can save energy by reducing the need for air conditioning and heating, according to the report.

Scipione and Pusterino, and other environmentalists in Bayonne, are concerned that parks are being renovated, and buildings are being constructed at the expense of trees. Edward F. Clark Park, for instance, was renovated last year, and all the trees inside the park were torn down. Trees were added outside the park, but that shade will not reach the playground.

At Fitzpatrick Park, across from city hall on Avenue C, 17 trees will be cut down and replaced with 14 trees, 11 of which will be spruce trees that do not provide shade.

“The city’s plans for park after park after park is to cut down the trees and replace the playground equipment,” said Scipione. “A lot of it is going to be artificial surfaces. It seems very short-sighted.”

A new leaf

Scipione wants Bayonne municipal government to conduct a tree survey, like Jersey City did, and prioritize tree preservation and plant more trees around the city for the sake of the environment and the residents.

“We’re dealing with the combined sewage overflow issue,” Scipione said. “Trees hold water during storm events. They are green infrastructure. When you cut them down and pave the area over, it shoots more water and pollutants into the sewage. Cutting them down and paving over exacerbates both.

She went on, “Bayonne is set to double the truck traffic through 440, and we’re cutting down trees at the same time. They take carbon dioxide out of the air, which affects climate change. Our council and our administration, as far as I can see, never say the word climate change. It should inform every decision they make.”

Scipione and Pusterino encourage residents attending the “Who Will Speak for the Trees?” event to add a chain to the community tree. They will provide yarn, hooks, and crochet training. Crocheting is not mandatory, though. They also encourage people to visit, take a selfie with the yarn installation, and post it on the “Trees of Bayonne” Facebook page.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Rory Pasquariello can be reached at roryp@hudsonreporter.com.