Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson makes a good point about the critical role trees can play in building community. "[T]he value of urban trees has become clear in recent years," he writes in The Return of the Trees, which highlights Milwaukee's successful replacement of thousands of Dutch elms. "A 1997 study by the University of Illinois showed that crime in a housing project was significantly less and community bonds were stronger on tree-lined parts of the project than on barren parts."
He remembers how the majestic old elms created a shade canopy on streets during summers of his youth, enticing kids to play outside during the day and neighbors to chat on each other's porches at night.
After more than 125,000 elms had to be removed, however, the city's green umbrella was gone.
"Without the trees, summer heat reflected brutally off concrete. Children retreated from the congregational sidewalk to individual porches. Lightning bugs, deprived of the post-leaf raking debris they need to regenerate, dimmed into memory," Jackson recalls.
But Milwaukee invested a significant sum to plant new trees. It took awhile, but the canopy returned.
"In lots of cities, it's hard to argue for the support of trees with all the hue and cry for police and fire services," a Milwaukee environmental official told Jackson. ''But our electorate here is pretty savvy. We know we can't walk away from our 200,000 trees."
Trees - and landscaping in general - aren't frills. They help give a community heart, and soul.