Saving Little Havana’s Trees

When a friend told me about the city’s plans to chop down Little Havana Trees trees in Domino Plaza, next to the Tower Theater, I was shocked.

“Why?” I asked?

“For murals,” my friend replied.

The skinny palm trees that border the Tower Theater provide the last bit of shade available in Domino Plaza. The plaza, built in 2006, used to have planters with trees as well as benches. Over the past year, however, the City of Miami has removed benches in Domino Plaza, Azucar Plaza and Cuban Memorial Park, leaving us residents without places to sit in our most iconic public spaces. And now the trees?

Calle Ocho used to have a number of black walnut trees, planted by the Kiwanis of Little Havana and the Little Havana Development Association as part of plans for a “Latin Quarter.” The dream of the Latin Quarter seems to have been realized, in that Calle Ocho is now one of Miami’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting millions of visitors from around the world.

The trees, however, have not fared as well. Unfortunately, black walnut trees can leave a white residue on the tops of cars. Many business owners chopped the trees down, and some complained that the trees also prevented drivers from seeing their signs. The City of Miami frequently replaced the black walnut trees, which provide plenty of shade, with palm trees, which offer very little shade.

Fortunately, people keep planting trees in Little Havana. For example, in 2015, volunteers planted 100 trees in Little Havana. They were part of a “S.H.A.D.E.” (Shaping Healthy, Active, Deep-rooted, Environments) project funded by “Partners for Places” – an initiative of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and Health Foundation of South Florida’s Healthy Community Partnership program. In 2017, S.H.A.D.E. planted more than 70 trees.

But what happens AFTER the trees are planted? All too often, the trees are dying from neglect, chopped down, or are falling over during heavy winds or hurricanes. Maybe we need to focus on protecting and maintaining the trees that we have.

Why do trees matter?

Here are seven reasons trees are important to cities, a list I’ve borrowed from an online resource called “Smart Cities Dive” (see smartcitiesdive.com).

 

  1. Air Quality. Trees are good for our lungs. They remove carbon dioxide from the air, and a single mature tree releases enough oxygen to support two humans. Trees also remove 60% of the particulates (bad stuff) from car exhaust on streets lined with trees.
  2. Health & Well-Being. Scientific research shows that trees have a positive impact on asthma, skin cancer, and stress-related illnesses. They filter out polluted air (sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nickel, lead, etc.), protect us from the harmful rays of the sun, reduce the formation of smog, and provide a great setting for going for a walk, exercising in a park, and other forms of recreation. They even protect us from urban noise pollution, providing and all-natural sound barrier. Plus, they are a natural habitat for our local birds.
  3. Crime Reduction. It might surprise you to know that researchers have discovered a relationship between trees and reductions in both violent and petty crime and even domestic violence. Basically, we “chill out” around trees, which are known for their therapeutic and calming influence.
  4. Cooling Effects. Don’t we all want to be cool? Trees reduce temperatures! Studies have proven that just one mature tree can produce the same effect as 10 room-sized air conditioners. Did you know that groups of trees can even change the local climate, lowering the temperature in an entire area? Yes.
  5. Adverse Wind Speed. We know what heavy winds and hurricanes can do—we’ve seen the evidence. Where there are fewer trees, the wind goes FASTER. Trees are a natural barrier and can significantly reduce wind speed—which means they help protect our homes and buildings.
  6. Managing Stormwater. When it rains in Miami during storms, it RAINS, and water often ends up flooding our local streets, driveways, parking lots and even homes and other buildings. Tree cover helps reduce stormwater runoff.
  7. Visual Appeal. Trees are beautiful. Domino Plaza used to have trees with yellow blossoms, and they were very pretty when in bloom. We have the famous flamboyan tree (Royal Poinciana) with its gorgeous red or orange flowers, our majestic ceibas (and the famous one in Cuban Memorial Park), our elegant palm trees, our sturdy Dade pine and oak trees, our shade-giving gumbo limbo (Almácigo) trees, and many others.

Convinced about the value of trees? Then why not help protect the trees we have – and plant more trees? If you want to get involved in tree protection and tree planting, here’s what you can do.

  1. Advocate: Tell Elected Officials to Protect and Prioritize Our Trees. Call the Office of Commissioner Joe Carollo and ask him to help protect the trees in Domino Plaza and in other parts of Little Havana. What are his plans? Call (305) 250-5380 or email him at [email protected]
  2. Educate and Engage Your Neighbors. Explain the value of trees at your local community organization, your house of worship, your laundromat—wherever you meet with and talk with your neighbors. Maybe you can start a group effort to protect and plant trees in the neighborhood. You might even be able to get funding from Live Healthy Little Havana (LiveHealthyLittleHavana.com).
  3. Get Involved. Join a local tree/environmental organizations and start planting and protecting trees. Organizations include Citizens for a Better South Florida (located in Little Havana) (305)648-0000 or ABetterSouthFlorida.org, Treemendous Miami (TreemendousMiami.org) or Urban Paradise Guild (UrbanParadiseGuild.org). Each of these websites includes tips on planting and protecting trees.

Corinna J. Moebius is a longtime Little Havana resident, tour guide (LittleHavanaExperiences.com) and community leader. She is also the co-author of “A History of Little Havana,” and is writing her PhD dissertation about Little Havana.

 

By Corinna J. Moebius

[email protected]