For a town where many residents pride themselves on being liberal, Ashland can be a remarkably conservative place when it comes to its public spaces. The most recent case in point is the project to renovate the Plaza — and in the process, remove trees.
It has been said of various groups of people — pick a profession, or any other collection of folks — that they are 100 percent in favor of progress and 100 percent against change. It's only human nature to find comfort in constancy, especially when the world at large seems to reinvent itself almost on a daily basis.
But nothing stays the same, really. Children grow up; people change jobs, houses, cars. We all grow old.
So do trees.
In the case of two liquidambars, also called sweetgums, they were the wrong trees in the wrong place all along. The variety is not recommended as a street tree. And yet they managed to last long enough to grow to 60 feet in one case, 90 feet in the other.
Now, they pose a safety hazard from falling branches. Their roots are showing signs of "girdling" — circling the main stem of the tree, cutting off water and nutrients to the tree.
A Japanese maple also is showing signs of stress. It will be removed and replanted, probably in Lithia Park. The sweetgums will not be replanted.
Another Japanese maple that had died from sun scalding and people climbing on it was removed last fall, as was a Modesto ash.
Despite complaints from some critics that removing trees disrespects residents and damages microclimates and the city's visual beauty, city officials have said there will be more trees on the Plaza when the renovation is complete than there are now.
On the city's website, a page devoted to this issue — www.ashland.or.us/plazatrees — makes clear there were five trees on the Plaza when the project began. There will be nine when it is finished.
It's hard to see how this net gain of four trees that will thrive in an urban environment is a bad thing.
It's great to see people taking a personal interest in their town, and wanting to take part in decisions that affect the civic landscape. But when emotions overwhelm common sense, it's best to defer to the experts.