On a sunny July morning some time in the future, a group of high-spirited citizens are arguing with city officials in the gardens of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The subject of the argument is a tree; a chestnut marked with a big red painted circle, occupying a corner of the park. The circle signifies it is scheduled for immediate felling. The tree’s ongoing presence, in a place where the likes of George Washington and Bejamin Franklin regularly strolled, has been argued over in the press and in official meetings for a year or two.
Some officials declare the chestnut infected with some grotesque plant disease that might spread to all the other trees. Others report that the chestnut was dropping its leafy limbs upon the ground far too regularly, endangering passersby. Many Philadelphians did not buy into these stories of the chestnut’s dangerous character and they believed them made up by property developers trying to open up the area for new building projects.
The chestnut had been living on its corner since the founding fathers were drafting up the Declaration of Independence hundreds of years ago. One eccentric old Philadelphian was so outraged by the impending execution of the chestnut that he walked to the park at 5am in the morning to chain himself to the tree. The city workers didn’t arrive until 9am and the city officials not till 10:30am — so there was plenty of time for reporters to set up their equipment in order to capture the proceedings. The old guy, standing bound to the tree, was making an impassioned speech to the whole city: “This tree’s even older than me. Why do we protect centuries old buildings and not centuries old living beings? We need trees to survive. Who do you think gives us the air that we breath? So here, today, on this auspicious site, I call for a Declaration of Interdependence. We have no right to kill this tree. It is part of our community. Plants are people, too!”
By midday, the tree’s felling was postponed pending an investigation. By late afternoon, the old man was being interviewed by statewide media. By sunset, thousands of locals had come to honor the chestnut in the park and to celebrate its survival. By late evening, engaged citizens had headed off to nurseries across the state to enthusiastically buy up trees of all shapes and sizes before returning to Philadelphia and planting them all around the city at sites subject to dubious development plans.
By: Alan Marshall. Dr. Alan Marshall is a lecturer in environmental social science at Mahidol University. He is coordinator of “The Ecotopia 2121 Project,” which details the botanically-engaged futures of 100 real world cities across the globe.