Why Are There So Many Empty Tree Beds?

Once I started noticing empty tree beds in the neighborhood, I became obsessed. Across Tribeca—Canal to Murray, Broadway to West Street, not including parks, above-ground planters, or medians—I found 56 treeless beds. I’m sure a number of the trees that are still around are dead, but that’s a story for another time.

The Parks Department has a lot of info online about its tree-planting program, including how to request a tree, how to plant one on your own, how Parks goes about planting trees, and how new buildings require trees. (Speaking of which, 290 West should probably have more than one tree, unless it paid into the Parks Tree Fund instead.)

What I couldn’t find was an explanation as to why we have so many empty beds, or whether there’s any hope of them being dealt with anytime soon. You can request that a stump be removed, but it’s “dependent on the availability of funding [and] we currently have a backlog of stumps awaiting removal.” The schedule of planned planting locations is from the fall of 2016—with nothing listed in Community Board 1—but nothing yet for 2017.

When I checked in with the Parks Department about future plantings in the area, the rep asked whether I had street addresses for all of the tree beds (and there was no way I was going to redo the census). I sent a link to the photos below, noting that many of the streets exist only in Tribeca—if the street is on a yet-to-be-announced schedule, it’s probably for the tree bed included here.

The rep said that despite what the list online says, Parks planted 16 street trees in Community Board 1 in the spring of 2016. And this spring, nearly 30 street trees are scheduled for planting in CB1—including on Canal, Desbrosses, Hudson, Jay, and Harrison. (The department doesn’t plant much during the fall season, citing unspecified Department of Transportation restrictions.) I don’t know if there’s any hope of getting more trees on the 2017 schedule, but if your property faces an empty tree bed, the Parks rep said you should call 311 and make a request for that address.

More guidelines from the Parks site:

• All requests are handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Not all requests can be satisfied immediately and some may take longer than a year.
• Each location you request is surveyed in person by a Parks Forester to make sure there are no conflicts with the surrounding infrastructure, and that the site is a suitable one for a tree to grow and thrive. If a site is found to be appropriate for a new tree, we will add it to a list to be planted during our next available planting season. View the street tree planting guidelines [PDF].
• Requests can be made for existing empty tree beds as well as paved sidewalk locations.
• You can make a tree species suggestion along with your request; however, the Parks Forester in charge of the planting will make the final species determination. Their primary objective is to select a tree that will grow safely and provide the greatest possible level of benefits to a neighborhood.
• Trees are only planted during our two planting seasons: Spring (March 1 to May 31) and Fall (October 1 to December 31).
• Parks does not plant on private property.

Beach Street

Canal Street

Church Street

Desbrosses Street

Harrison Street

Hubert Street

Hudson Street

Jay Street

Laight Street

Lispenard Street

Murray Street

N. Moore Street

Reade Street

Sixth Avenue

Thomas Street

Varick Street

Vestry Street

Warren Street

Washington Street

Watts Street

West Street

Worth Street



  1. I don’t know if “so many” is more or less than typical.

    I will relate my experience with the request system. Last August a carting truck destroyed the tree in front of my house in Greenwich Village. As it was a hazard the Parks department removed the tree trunk the same day. The people at Parks told me to submit a new tree request at nyc.gov, which I did. There was no indication via email that my request was received. Some months later, I woke up at 5AM to the sound of a stump grinder out front. Last month I got an email:
    **This is an auto-generated system message. Please do not reply to this message.**
    Service Request #: C1-1-[omitted]
    Date Submitted: 08/26/16 10:11:24 AM
    Request Type: New Tree Request
    Details: For One Address
    Your Service Request was updated.
    The Department of Parks and Recreation has reviewed this request and will visit the location to investigate the condition.
    When I followed the link in the email the only additional detail I found was this:

    NEXT UPDATE DUE: 160 Day(s)

    160 days? So, we’ll see.

  2. Across from 50 Franklin, there were 3 trees planted years ago, and within 3 years all were removed. 2 died, but all 3 were removed, never replanted. I contacted the tree planting service of NYC, but nothing ever happened, and no answer if they would ever replant.

  3. They like to tout the million tree number, but they don’t talk about how those are taken are of afterwards, how many have been damaged, or had an infestation, and had to be cut down.

    Thanks for drawing attention to this issue.

  4. On my block alone, West 21St. bertwee 7th Ave and 8th Ave there are 5 empty beds. All throughout Chelsea there are empty beds. You would think that the city would keep records of th trees removed and that they need to be replaced in a timely manner. Or is that to much to ask.

  5. Seems very odd to me that there is no simple online log maintained of trees that have been cut down and trees that have been re planted. Basic accountability.
    Seems to be more of a motivation to cut down than to plant…

    Dr. Seuss’ onceler seems to have surreptitiously instituted himself within the parks department!

    • The City posts its public data at http://opendata.cityofnewyork.us/

      “On March 7, 2012, former Mayor Bloomberg signed Local Law 11 of 2012, more commonly known as the ‘Open Data Law,’ which amended the New York City administrative code to mandate that all public data be made available on a single web portal by the end of 2018.”

      * If one goes the link above and enter “311” in the search field, it will return links to databases of all 311 Service Requests by address and complaint type, for various years.

      * Once one accesses a 311 SR database, one can filter by agency “DPR” for Department of Parks and Recreation.

      * Then one can filter for all complaint types including the word “tree”

      * This returns results for new tree requests, for maintenance requests for damaged trees, removal requests for dead and dying trees, etc.

      * There are fields that show the status of the complaint, the date the status was updated, and a (generic) resolution description.

      • For example, here are all the requests since 2010 on Franklin Street between Lafayette St and Broadway:

        Created Date Closed Date Agency Complaint Type Descriptor Incident Address Status Due Date Resolution Description
        5/27/2014 12:06 6/3/2014 9:11 DPR Illegal Tree Damage Roots Damaged 54 FRANKLIN STREET Closed 6/6/2014 13:30 The condition was inspected and it was determined that no work order was necessary. The condition will not be inspected again for at least 90 days.
        7/17/2012 12:37 7/26/2012 11:19 DPR New Tree Request For One Address 50 FRANKLIN STREET Closed 1/13/2013 12:37 The Department of Parks and Recreation inspected and determined the issue was out of its jurisdiction.
        6/22/2012 13:35 7/26/2012 11:18 DPR New Tree Request For One Address 50 FRANKLIN STREET Closed 12/19/2012 14:44 The Department of Parks and Recreation inspected and determined the issue was out of its jurisdiction.
        6/18/2012 15:24 6/22/2012 12:52 DPR New Tree Request For One Address 50 FRANKLIN STREET Closed 12/15/2012 15:24 The Department of Parks and Recreation inspected but the condition was not found.
        12/21/2011 9:40 12/21/2011 11:50 DPR New Tree Request For One Address 50 FRANKLIN STREET Closed 6/18/2012 9:40 The Department of Parks and Recreation inspected but the condition was not found.
        12/19/2011 8:03 12/19/2011 14:26 DPR New Tree Request For One Address 50 FRANKLIN STREET Closed 6/16/2012 8:03 The Department of Parks and Recreation inspected but the condition was not found.
        6/13/2011 10:51 6/19/2012 13:31 DPR New Tree Request For One Address 50 FRANKLIN STREET Closed 12/11/2011 9:03 The Department of Parks and Recreation has planted the tree(s).

  6. I wonder how many trees die as a direct result of the heaps of salt plopped out on the sidewalks in our neighborhood whenever there’s even the slightest hint of snow on the way. I find it frustrating that salt is used as a substitute for sand – instead of a slight sprinkling to salinate the water and raise its freezing temperature, the stuff is heaped in great mounds, and takes a corresponding toll on the plants and animals.

  7. The highly acclaimed NYC Parks Million Tree Program is now revealing its failures and shortcomings by the appearance of high level of young tree mortality. The same is occurring across the other boroughs. I would pose to those that have been put in charge of managing our public street trees- why is this being allowed to happen (at the expense to the tax-payer)?

    As Forest Service researcher Gregg McPherson once stated, if tree planting is a numbers game, you’ve already lost.
    And clearly this program was numbers all the way. What has very much contributed to the mortality here are the dozens of Parks contractors hired to install these trees and absent the supervision and oversight needed to ensure proper tree installation.