By Peggy Middaugh
District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller understands the many values of trees – from shade and beauty to cleaning the air and attracting wildlife – and she especially knows how important they are in District 4. Even though District 4 has been spared from the devastation created in other neighborhoods of the city by the Asian Longhorned Beetle, Barbara was the first City Councilor to show her financial support for the Worcester Tree Initiative and actively encouraged us to plant trees her district.
With her usual style of collaboration and moving things ahead, she contacted me soon after the Worcester Tree Initiative was established in 2009 with a mission: how and where do we get trees planted in District 4? With small yards and narrow sidewalks, are there any spaces left to plant them? So with a “tree focus”, she picked me up in her car and we drove around the district, looking for planting sites. And I must say we were surprised – there were lots of possible places for planting trees!
Next she met with the City Forester, Brian Breveleri to ask for his support to plant street trees in District 4. Most of the City’s replanting efforts at this point were focused in the northern part of the city, where thousands of trees had been cut down as the result of the Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation. But with the backing of City Councilor Haller, Brian was happy to put some resources into this neighborhood. As a result of her persistence and cooperative approach with the city, 250 street trees were planted in the Webster Square area of District 4 in the spring of 2011. Walk down Hitchcock, or Tirrell, or Stoneland streets and you can see the difference it’s made. Mill, Main, and Lucian streets have all been beneficiaries of the District 4 spring street tree planting.
And it’s not over: we’ve just been told that up to another 40 street trees will be planted along Main Street before the end of the season. That’s how collaboration works. And that’s how Barbara Haller makes things happen.
And then there are Beech Trees. They happen to be Barbara’s favorite, and an iconic tree in Worcester’s inner city neighborhoods. Big, beautiful, stately trees, they bring character and charm. In the fall of 2009 UMass Memorial Health Care, the owner of property leased by Family Health Center on Queen Street, had finalized plans to develop a parking lot on an open green space at the corner of Jaques and King Streets. A physician who worked at the Family Health Center brought to our attention that a magnificent healthy beech tree was located on the development site would be cut down to accommodate parking. It was late in the project process, and it wasn’t clear that anything could be done to stop the demise of the tree.
Enter Councilor Haller who loves Beech trees. Because of her existing positive working relationship with UMass Memorial President & CEO John O’Brien, she offered to contact him and advocate for saving the tree. President O’Brien responded positively. The development plans were redesigned around the tree. The parking lot was built and the Beech tree still stands, magnificent as ever.
My experience of working with Barbara is not only that she “gets it” with respect to the importance of trees in the community, but also that she’s built trust, credibility and respect with her colleagues, leaders, and residents of the neighborhoods in District 4 and that those characteristics make her a very effective Councilor for moving District 4 ahead – together!
Thank you, Barbara, for being a true tree hugger!
Peggy Middaugh is the former executive director of the Regional Environmental Council and is now spearheading The Worcester Tree Initiative.