Recap: Mad. Sq. Hort Symposium


On Monday, November 5th 2018, Madison Square Park Conservancy hosted our first Mad. Sq. Hort Symposium, Planting the Future: Urban Trees, at Eataly NYC Flatiron.

In celebration of our recent Tree Conservation Plan we invited scholars, horticulturalists, and tree enthusiasts to a forum that sought to drive sustainable solutions to global issues. Eric Seaborn, Chief of Forestry and Horticulture for NYC Department of Parks and Recreation introduced the event and provided context for what was to be discussed. Sonja Dümpelmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design discussed how “street tree planting goes back to the 16th century, but it is only since the second half of the 19th century that many cities have undertaken increasing efforts to grow the number of trees on the streets.” Specifically, she talked about the history of urban tree planting in New York City. Dümpelmann explained that while there were people who saw the benefits of these trees, there were also people who saw them as a nuisance. Trees would take away their light, space, shed leaves, and their roots could break up asphalt and piping systems. Due to these conflicts the planting of these trees became serialized and standardized. Dümpelmann stated, “You could say the trees became urbanized and the city became naturalized.”

Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, contributing photographers to National Geographic magazine spoke about their book Wise Trees. This book shares spectacular images and stories of trees around the world. Cook talked about how they “are story tellers with cameras, and trees have been humans partners in life throughout history it was time to tell their stories of their bonds with humanity.” Cook and Jenshel discussed how, “Trees can live without us, but we can’t live without them.” They went on to explore how trees have spiritual connections and play important parts in specific cultures and times in history.

Nina Bassuk, Professor and Program Leader, Urban Horticulture Institute at Cornell University discussed the challenges of growing trees in the city. She talked about how we ask a lot of our trees and that we should treat them better. When deciding on which criteria to discuss for tree selection, she picked four. These four main plant selection criteria included: pest resistant plants adapted to environmental condition; highly diverse, native and non-native, non-invasive; meets design/functional objectives; and matches management limitations. She went on to discuss these in detail, concluding that we need more diverse tree selections.

Sarah Charlop-Powers, Executive Director and Co-founder, Natural Areas Conservancy discussed how “nature is woven into all parts of urban life, but is perhaps most visible in large parks in the city.” She went on to provide examples of parks that are thriving with nature’s elements throughout the city. Later on she stated, “In total, NYC has more than 20,000 acres of natural areas – forests and wetlands that are critical resources for New Yorkers – providing recreational opportunities, and cleaning our air and our water.” Charlop-Powers concluded with three major takeaways. They included: cities need best practices for management of natural areas, cities are disconnected and are working in silos there is limited connection between resiliency efforts and natural areas management, and people value access to nature, but many urban natural areas are underutilized and better design and more programming is needed.

The Symposium ended with a panel moderated by Stephanie Lucas, Deputy Director of Horticulture and Operations, Madison Square Park Conservancy. The panelists included: Jennifer Greenfeld, Assistant Commissioner of Forestry, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation; Joseph Charap, Director of Horticulture, The Green-Wood Cemetery; William Hart, (RLA, ASLA, LEED AP), Associate, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects and Bill Logan, Founder, President and Lead Arborist, Urban Arborists. They discussed what can be done to provide a bright future for urban trees (such as planting trees that can tolerate a large range of temperatures and help take care of trees in your neighborhood through NYC tree map site) and answered questions from the audience. Some discussion with the audience included ways to educate the public on bettering their natural environment, discussion of the tree plan, and tree diversity impact on our climate.

After the Symposium ended Hort Tours were led by the Mad. Sq. Park Horticulture Team, allowing attendees the opportunity to gain more insight on how the Tree Conservation Plan and some of the other ideas discussed are put into practice.

We thank everyone who was able to make it to this event and all of our speakers for their excellent contributions.