On July 1, 2012, as West Chicago was hit with a violent storm, in less than a half hour over 400 city owned parkway trees were wiped out.
Coupled with the recent attack of the ash borer, and the resulting loss of trees from their activity, parts of our tree-lined streets have suddenly been stripped. Replacing them will take years of planting and growth along with money and persistent dedication.
As responsible environmentally conscious modern citizens, we might expect to have tree-lined streets, and discover that many cities in the United States have “tree policies” of some sort. In West Chicago’s Municipal Code we find not only the definition of the parkways, but also specific instructions on types of tree allowed along with their placement: trees not susceptible to disease, and those that are not prone to making large messes (like mulberry trees) as well as a variety of plantings are important. When the Dutch Elm disease hit the United States 50 years ago, many cities lost hundreds of side-by-side-planted trees that lined their streets. At one point in West Chicago’s history homeowners were expected to share the cost of the tree plantings and maintenance in addition to their property tax obligation, but currently this is 100% covered.
So, how did West Chicago get such a tree policy?
In 1868 some land owners (Joseph and Mary McConnell, John Elliott, Edward Rees, Philip McGrath, Richard Murphy, Mary Lynch, Daniel Healy, Michael Cary and Mary Parkison) gave land for Arbor Avenue. As they gifted this land, they included these stipulations in the legal document:
…reserving and stipulating That all the trees standing and growing within the bounds of said described new road shall be reserved and preserved alive and growing except a space in the center of said road Two rods wide for a carriage way be cleared and graded, hereby decreeing that no person, shall have the right to cut down, dig up or wantonly mutilate said trees, but shall preserve them to ornament and beautify said Avenue.
145 years later West Chicago is still benefiting from their foresight.