And the tree was happy.
— “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein
I’m no expert on the psychology of trees, so I can’t say whether the 250-year-old oak on the site of the proposed Grandview Commons Town Center is happy.
It definitely has cause for gratitude, though, and maybe a little relief, given that the developer of the site on Madison’s Far East Side is making room for it in the proposed 30,000-square-foot commercial development.
I had assumed that the tree’s preservation meant pressure of the local tree-hugging variety had been brought to bear on the city and the developer, DSI Real Estate Group. An artist’s rendering of the project suggests preservation wasn’t the natural choice (so to speak), as the oak appears as something of an empty spot in a row of storefronts like a gap in a 6-year-old’s front teeth.
But Tim Parks, a planner with the city of Madison who has been working on the project, said DSI made saving the tree a priority in various iterations of plans for the three-acre site.
“That has been a motivation of theirs for a while now,” Parks said.
The tree is “obviously important to the neighborhood and I,” Ald. Amanda Hall told me, but “the developers brought up preserving the tree the very first time we met about this project.”
DSI vice president Dan Brinkman said it wasn’t that residents lobbied to save the tree, but that maintaining the natural environment in the broader Grandview Commons development has been “part of the culture from the get-go.”
The company has been happy to oblige when possible, he said, even though taking the tree down to make way for a bigger building could add some $800,000 to the value of the town center project.
With a life cycle of up to 400 years and a clean bill of health, the tree could be standing decades after the proposed commercial development has been built, occupied with high-end stores, aged, occupied with lower-end stores, gone vacant and finally torn down to make way for whatever commercial or residential development will then be in vogue.
That seems like reason enough to leave it alone. In the meantime, what better way to class up the occasionally maligned mini-mall style of development than with one of Mother Nature’s most enduring creations?
The apple tree in Silverstein’s 1964 children’s book isn’t quite so lucky as the Grandview oak.
She is progressively destroyed by the boy she loves (who once loved her back) as the boy grows older and the tree agrees to give herself to him to satisfy his desire for money (he sells the tree’s apples), a house (built with the tree’s branches) and a boat to sail away in (courtesy of her trunk).
By the end, nothing of her remains but a stump, and yet she happily straightens herself up and invites the boy — now an old man — to sit and rest on her awhile.
It’s a beautiful book of uncertain meaning, and one of those rare cases when fiction is stranger than reality.
There’s no need to search for any deeper meaning in a developer’s decision to forgo profit for a really old tree, though.
It’s enough to know that it will make some people — and maybe even the tree — happy.