“Urbs in Horto” in Action

Putting the Garden Back in the City

Let’s talk about planting seeds, shall we?

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Let’s talk about planting seeds that grow into big things — like trees. I’m a bit of a tree nut myself. One of the best things I think we can do in Chicago and other cities is “reforest” them. Trees offer huge advantages everywhere, but in the big city they’re critical.

Trees not only improve the quality of the air we breathe by filtering out pollution from autos and other sources, but they also provide shade and help keep the temperature down, especially during those hot summer days. While cement and asphalt heat up, trees cool down.

Trees also absorb lots of rainwater that might otherwise cause flooding or mix in with the sewers and get polluted, requiring society to treat it. Trees naturally take the rain and put it right back in the air in the form of fresh oxygen.

In addition, studies strongly suggest that trees actually help reduce violence in the city as well as increase property values.

I personally planted a few trees around my house last fall, and I tell you not a single day goes by that I don’t get a small feeling of satisfaction watching them slowly grow. Sure, it’s not the same thing as having kids, but then again, my red sunset maple won’t crash my car, either.

I also asked the City of Chicago to plant more trees in front of my house and around my neighborhood. The City owns the sidewalks and parkways that lie between private property lines and the street. While this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to shovel your sidewalk in the winter, did you know that this does mean you can ask the City to plant a brand new tree at no cost to you?

Trees on Chicago's parkways are the property of the City and are maintained by the Bureau of Forestry, a division of the Department of Streets and Sanitation. The Bureau of Forestry plants approximately 5,000 trees each year, and prunes them on a six-year rotating cycle. You can ask the Bureau to give you a permit to plant your own tree on your parkway, or to plant a tree on your parkway for you. The Bureau can't promise to plant a particular kind of tree on your parkway, but you can request one, such as an oak or a gingko.

If you live in Chicago and you want a new tree planted on your parkway, call 311. If you want to learn about which types of trees the Bureau of Forestry plants, or how to care for trees in general, go to the City of Chicago's website. You can also check out Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State or

Even better, if your block or another block in your neighborhood is sorely lacking in trees, you can ask your alderman to put in a “block survey” request. In this case, your alderman faxes or phones a request into the Bureau of Forestry to have an entire city block surveyed for potential trees. The Bureau of Forestry then sends out workers to see which parkways have room, ensuring that new trees will not interfere with gas lines, fire hydrants, etc.

If you want to request a block survey, call your alderman directly. It doesn't hurt to remind your alderman that expenses related to parkway trees come out of the Bureau of Forestry's budget, so your alderman doesn't even have to pay for them.

It also doesn't hurt to remind your alderman that the mayor is a big tree-hugger:

“Trees soften the edges of life in a large urban setting. They add beauty to the environment, help cleanse the air, increase property values, and provide shade that can lower energy costs on hot days.” — Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

So get out there and plant some trees. Your children and grandchildren will thank you for it!

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