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Trees inexpensive way for cities to improve appearance, economy

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com · 340-2435

As economic development tools go, trees are cheap.

Even cheaper for Decatur, which recently accepted a $10,000 grant from the Alabama Power Foundation and Urban Forestry Commission to hire an arborist to do a tree-planting plan.

Before Decatur starts digging, though, Dale Westermeier had some suggestions. Westermeier is the parks and grounds administrator for Greenville, S.C.

Not all trees thrive in a downtown area, he said. Willow oak and red maples work well; Bradford pears do not. He also recommends bosque elm and black gum trees.

Especially when planting the first trees, Westermeier suggests including smaller “under-canopy” trees like star magnolia, dogwood and saucer magnolia. Many of these will die once the sun-blocking canopy of the larger trees is established, but they improve the downtown’s appearance in the interim.

When the trees still were small, Westermeier said, Greenville invested considerable time and money in seasonal flower shows.

Changing perception

These drew people into the downtown and began changing the public perception of the downtown area, a change that became complete when the trees matured.

Westermeier said that when he arrived in Greenville in 1986, three full-time employees handled all grounds maintenance — including trees and flowers — on Main Street alone.

“You’d probably be looking at $50,000 to hire two people in Decatur, plus vehicles,” Westermeier said. “Depending on what you want to do, you’d probably need $20,000 (per year) in materials.”

He said Greenville’s experience is that the cost of planting one tree is about $400.

Greenville, he said, has 151 trees in the five central blocks of Main Street. It since has added 175 trees on the south end of Main Street and more than 200 on side streets.

Some trees, he said, are funded through Greenville’s non-profit Tree Foundation. The private owner of a business or residence donates the tax-deductible cost of the tree, and the city purchases and plants the tree.

“It costs some money and takes some effort,” Westermeier said, “but in Greenville it was sure worth it.”

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