Friday, July 30, 2010

Ice coffee in the Shade

Cup of the Day # 30
"Roots and Tendrils"
By Gwyneth Leech
Sumi ink and white-out pen
on green cup, 2010

I have a confession to make - in the sweltering heat of this record-breaking summer I have been drinking ice coffee! I have more than enough cardboard cups to keep me going indefinitely, but now I have a new problem: the clear plastic cup. What am ito do with that? I will save it too, and test it out as a drawing surface.

So I am sitting on my front steps in the shade drinking an ice Illy coffee from Amy's Bread on 9th, and thinking about the sidewalk in front of my co-op building. Something truly weird is underway. The cement slab has heaved up on the curbside - by nearly six inches, and is going down towards the steps. This is an active, albeit slow-motion process. I reckon it is changing every week.

It is surely caused by the steet tree in front of the building, a hardy looking locust that is bigger, bushier and more flowery than its neighbors.

I am on the co-op board of my 20 unit building and I can't resist this type of problem. I called a contractor last week who came by to look. Yes, he confirmed, it is the tree. He has to take up the cement,  cut the offending surface roots and repour the sidewalk. It will cost $3700.

I wondered if the city could help us? I called 311, the NYC hotline. No, Co-ops over four units are not eligible for sidewalk repairs or tree service, but the contractor can't just cut the roots because the tree belongs to the New York City Parks Department. In fact, anything we do within 25 feet of the tree will require a permit from them.

My friends at the comunity garden on 48th Street recommend a tree specialist who also came by. Turns out it is not a Locust at all, rather a Chinese Scholar Tree AKA Pagoda Tree AKA Serafina. But he can't do anything for me. He tells me to call a cement contractor. I told him we already did. He gives me a name of someone who specializes in street tree sidewalk problems.

I called this contractor too. He confirmed what everyone else said - the Parks Department has to agree that the root can be cut. If they say no because cutting the root jeopardizes the tree, then there is not a long term solution to our sidewalk problem. And here is the final snag - the Parks Department can't make the decision until the cement sidewalk is broken open and the root revealed.

Now I am totally stumped. Do we pay $3700 to dig up the sidewalk to find out we cannot fix our problem? "I see this situation every day", says the contractor as he heads back to his truck.

Well, we love our street trees and I have no idea what to do next. So I sit on the steps sipping my coffee, watch the tree grow and admire the power of vegetation to lay waste the works of man.


  1. Great creativity, and I'm sure in NY, there's way too many cups to be had!


  2. re: street trees. Part of the problem is getting more creative/flexible about the materials to be used to fix the sidewalk. Cement is not the only option in some jurisdictions.