Thousands sign petition to save downtown trees

The northeast corner of Renaissance Square, Adams Street and First Avenue. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Over 2,000 people signed a petition against the alleged proposal to remove trees in downtown Phoenix.

The trees, located at Renaissance Square, are rumored to be scheduled for removal Saturday, Nov. 11; a removal local residents hope to prevent. The trees would be allegedly replaced with date palm trees.

Renaissance Square could not be reached for comment to confirm the removal or if it is aware of the petition.

Stacey Champion, a local activist and business owner, started the petition, titled, ‘Save the trees at Renaissance Square in downtown Phoenix!’ which has since gained traction over social media. It gathered almost 2,000 signatures within the first 24 hours.

Champion said she was not surprised by the reaction to the petition, because shade and trees are a hot-button issue.

“I think people really like trees, and I also think people who live here value shade and understand the importance of shade very much,” Champion said.

Jim McPherson, a member of multiple local community organizations, heard about the alleged removal and posted the information on social media. His post in part is what alerted Champion to the situation.

McPherson has been tracking trees in his Facebook page, ‘A Tree Used to Grow in Phoenix,’ a project takes photos of places where trees used to be in Phoenix. He started the project in 2014 after noticing trees disappearing at an alarming rate. He said the project has brought awareness to the situation.

Downtown Phoenix Partnership’s initiative to add more shade and trees has led to replanting and planting of trees in areas previously lacking trees.

McPherson’s next goal is to launch a census of the trees.

“People are interested, people care,” McPherson said.

He said with more people living downtown there is more value for a comfortable space.

“All the folks that are moving downtown are becoming more passionate about the places they live and work in,” McPherson said. “It’s the people that live here and want to have a fun way of life. That includes nature.”

Studies have shown that shade can significantly reduce urban heating. A recent study by Arizona State University researchers found that shade is the most important factor in making outdoor temperatures comfortable. The area where the trees are has been named one of the shadiest places in downtown Phoenix in a 2015 article by Downtown Phoenix Inc.

Sean Sweat, president of the Urban Phoenix Project was one of the people who signed and spread the petition, and said shade downtown is a serious problem.

“In a city like Phoenix, where heat is one of our biggest challenges, and only becoming more so, shade will make or break us,” Sweat said. “City Council talks a lot about the importance of shade, but that’s proven to be a lot of empty rhetoric because we still don’t have the ordinances nor the funding in place that would indicate they’re taking this critical issue seriously.”

Champion also pointed to sustainability as a major reason shade spots like this are crucial downtown.

“Phoenix is the bull’s eye of climate change, and we have a very big issue with urban heat island effect. I think that the city needs to do a better job connecting those dots between our sustainability goals, and our master shade and tree plan with the development community proactively,” she said.

Champion said it is possible some of the trees may be dead or sick, but she urged the owners to at least have someone check before tearing down the trees. She added that if the trees must come down, she would prefer they are replaced with trees that actually provide shade, not palm trees, which she felt provide no shade or use in downtown.

“I think that it’s vital to our downtown that we have as many little pockets of shade and nature that we can for the well-being of our residents,” Champion said.

Contact the reporter at Kara.Carlson@asu.edu.