At 7am each morning, Connie Spangler heads out to a corner on Pelham Parkway with a sign that delivers a simple message to passers-by – “Save the Trees.” The following is an interview with Connie the president of the Pelham Parkway Save the Trees Campaign. Her group is waging a determined campaign to prevent the city from removing 87 trees from the green space that makes up the Parkway. The removal is connected to a road enlargement project scheduled to begin this fall. Connie speaks about her personal crusade, the response of the local community and the need to act immediately.
Billy Wharton – Can you tell our readers about your organizing on Pelham Parkway?
Connie Spangler – There is a Pelham Parkway development project that is slated to take place here along Pelham Parkway beginning in fall 2010. As part of this project, they plan on cutting down 87 beautiful healthy trees along Pelham Parkway. The number of trees to be cut down has been as high as 256 and sometimes has been fewer than the 87 they are proposing now. We are the people of Pelham Parkway. I represent a group called the Pelham Parkway Save the Trees Campaign. I am the President and wrote a petition to save these trees. I have had over 1,000 people sign my petition. I collected those signatures personally and there have been over 1,500 collected all together. There are thousands upon thousands of people on both sides of the Pelham Parkway community and for them Pelham Parkway is the most important thing in the community. It is fresh air for us, it’s shade in the summer, the beauty of the trees is absolutely overwhelming, it’s a place for solace for some people, a place to walk, to think. Other people play ball out there on the grass of Pelham Parkway. Some people picnic out there. It’s just a beautiful oasis for us. Every neighborhood along the Parkway just loves this area. The residents, the merchants, the people that own property, the people that rent, for everyone saving the trees along Pelham Parkway is the most important issue that has ever hit this community.
BW – So, who is making this proposal to cut down the trees? Where are we at in the legislative part of the process?
CS – This started out in the Community Board 11 (CB 11) here in the Bronx. People in CB 11 have been proposing to cut down the trees for twenty years now. Thirteen years ago, I spoke to a CB 11 official and was notified that these trees were coming down no matter what. That, in turn, inspired me to make sure that I did everything I could possibly do to save these trees. The trees are just so important to me, I love this area. I am proud to say that I am a member of this community and live along Pelham Parkway. So, I go out two hours every morning with my aunt and we carry big signs. My aunt is handicapped so she brings her walker. I hold up the signs as high as I can with the numbers of officials that I think people should notify who can help us save the trees. In the afternoon, I go out directly into the heart of the neighborhoods and I speak to everybody I possibly can. I give out flyers, I give them information, I collect signatures, and I ask them to call the officials that can help us. I just keep doing this. In my group called the Pelham Parkway Save the Trees Campaign, we have 22 members who are extremely dedicated. There is another group called the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance, which is a great group working just as hard as we are. My group is more grassroots, we speak for the people in the neighborhood. The Preservation Alliance is working with the media and doing a fantastic job. They are working on other aspects, on bigger issues. We are both working together with one goal in mind – that we save the trees.
BW – What do you think the motivation is for the officials to want to remove these trees?
CS – I have been asked that question a million times. It does not make any sense. I do know that they tell us that it’s for our own safety. But, in the last few years, there has only been one fatal accident on Pelham Parkway and it was not caused by the tress. The gentleman had a heart attack. He could have hit anything. It actually is a very safe roadway between three highways. It is amazingly safe considering the traffic flow that there is. If you go out there, sit on one of the benches and watch the traffic go by you will realize that some people speed and others weave in and out of lanes, but there are ways to take care of that. They could put out more patrol cars, they could lower the speed limit, and there are many things that could be tried. But, for the past twenty years, they have done so little in terms of safety. It’s not an issue with the trees. A tree doesn’t run out in front of a car.
BW – Have you met anyone in your travels who supports cutting down the trees?
CS – Well, I have met three. I met one today who cursed me out. I was so surprised by that. He took the flyer that I had and he crumpled it up and threw it on the ground. It turns out that somebody in his family is very ill and I can understand his anger. He’s angry at the world.
BW – Ok so three people. How many people have you spoken to about this issue? Give our reader’s a ballpark estimate.
CS – I have been doing this for so long. I would guess 7,000 or 8,000 people. Everybody’s first comment is “Are they crazy?” “How can they do this?” “Why are they doing this?” A lot of people tell me that Pelham Parkway is why they moved to the neighborhood. People tell me “this is where I go to do my reading” or “this is where I go to sit on a bench” or “this is where I go to get away from hecticness of my life.” People are in stunned disbelief about this. The merchants are just so angry. If the project were to go through, it would be a disaster for our neighborhood in terms of parking and the traffic is going to be absolutely terrible. The people who put this plan together have not provided solutions for these issues. People say, “Pelham Parkway is the trees,” it’s the most beautiful thing we have, some people say it is the only thing we have. People say “No! No Way! They are not taking the trees from us.”
BW – Tell us where you are at with the campaign. What’s the goal? Who are you targeting to try to stop the removal of the trees?
CS – I think the most important person to call is Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz. I have really been concentrating efforts to have people call him or email him. I am sure he is a very fine gentleman and I am hoping that he can work with us so that we can save the most beautiful, wonderful asset that we have in our community.
BW – If readers want to get involved with your organization, how would they go about doing that?
CS – They could send me an email at dovesflyfree17 (at) yahoo.com
BW – Great. Any final thoughts on the issue? Anything else you would like to say about the campaign.
CS – I would like the officials involved in this project, to know that we plan on fighting this and continuing our fight. Everyone in the Pelham Parkway Save the Trees Campaign and everyone in the Preservation Alliance have made this a commitment for life. We are going to make sure that the trees stay on Pelham Parkway where they belong so that our community can enjoy them.