One Man's Quest to Free Street Trees From Their (Literal) Chains

"And I'm just one guy with one set of eyes."

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Treedom Project

Is a tree near you languishing beneath a rusty bicycle lock? You might want to call Rob Birdsong.

Birdsong and his Treedom Project are on a mission to end accidental tree girdling in New York City, which can happen when citizens attach a chain or other piece of metal to a street tree. On May 26, Birdsong will be joined by an urban arborist and a couple of carpenters on an expedition to free the city's trees of metal collars that strangle their growth and obscure their beauty.

"I would love to free 50 trees," he says. "It's fun clipping stuff from trees."

Since deciding to free a Japanese Zelkova choked by an old chain outside his Brooklyn home, Birdsong has assembled over a dozen targets for the mass de-girdling. "And I'm just one guy with one set of eyes," he says. "Let's see if we can open it up to getting feedback from other people in New York." It's a good question: Of the city's 5.5 million trees, how many have been locked up for decades?

In addition to starting the Treedom Project, Birdsong is in training to become a certified citizen tree pruner. In New York, he muses, the overwhelming expanse of concrete makes the existence of nature all the sweeter.

He's not a mad vigilante. And he isn't going to release your sidewalk bench or cut your fixie loose. (Though, he points out, locking your wheels to a tree is punishable by a $1,000 fine, and "it's not cool.")

But if the bicycle looks abandoned, he might leave a note.

All images courtesy of the Treedom Project.

HT Laughing Squid.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.