Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Trees and Small Towns

When I was 12 years old, I moved from Brooklyn, NY to Charlotte, NC. When people think of Brooklyn, they tend to think of a concrete jungle.  And I guess to an extent that's true. This is the block I lived on from when I was 6 months old to when I was 9 years old:

Corner of 18th Ave. and Dahill Rd.

However, from 9 to 12, I lived on this street in Brooklyn:

E. 33rd St.

Brooklyn really does have a lot of beautiful tree lined streets.

Charlotte is well known for its trees. Here's the street my parents lived on for over 30 years:

Woodbury Forest

But when I think of southern towns, specifically "downtowns", I don't think of trees. I think of neglected or repurposed department stores, hardware stores, banks and post offices. I used to travel Rt. 11 a lot from Charlotte to Asheville, and passed through Chesnee. This to me, typifies a classical southern town:

Chesnee, SC
In 2006, I worked on the film Cold Storage, the third feature written and directed by my friend Tony Elwood. A lot of Cold Storage was shot in Saluda, NC:

Saluda, NC. Photo from orchardinn.com

Tony is a sort of Alexander Payne in some ways. What Payne does in Sideways and The Descendants, Tony does in the rural south. The towns... the locals, the landscape, almost become a character in his films. Tony grew up in the town of Kannapolis, just outside of Charlotte, and his affection for the south shows in his films.

Kannapolis, NC, just around the corner form the Gem theater, where Tony fostered his love for film
Other small towns I've been in that stick with me include Chester, SC. There is a reason Chester is commonly used as a filming location:

Chester, SC. Photo from the town's website

In 1994, my wife and I moved from Charlotte to the small town of Ashland, VA where we lived for 6 years before building a home about 10 minutes away. Ashland is a very historic town, dating back to the 1840's. 

"Downtown" Ashland, VA, looking down South Center St.

Cross Brother Grocery Store just celebrated their 100th anniversary:

Cross Bros. Grocery opened in 1912

Here's another shot of Center St:

S. Center Street, Ashland, VA. Photo from richmondthenandnow.com

OK... so here's the thing. Notice that in Ashland and also in Saluda, there are a lot of trees planted along the street. In fact in Ashland, you can hardly see the storefronts in the summertime from across the street. Signs and windows are obscured by foliage. 

Here's Train Town Toy and Hobby in Ashland:

Train Town Toy and Hobby. Photo from Flickr

Personally, I think it is nuts to cover up 100 year old historic buildings, particularly storefronts in a downtown area, with trees. Sure, the trees provide shade. But if you are going to hawk your town as steeped in history, do you really want to obscure your best features by planting trees in front of them?

Don't ge me wrong. I love trees. I live on 3 wooded acres with a pond out back. But I think the trend to "prettify" downtown areas by covering them with trees is misguided. I'm not sure what the solution is... but it must have something to do with moderation. Smaller shrubs? Large trees, but fewer of them? Creative alternatives to providing shade?

Shepherdstown, WV seems to have a nice balance of trees and building visibility:

I love the streets of Harpers Ferry, WV:

Harper's Ferry
Chimney Rock, NC proudly displays their buildings:

Chimney Rock, NC

What's your take on trees and historic downtowns?

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