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Harvard Gives Smith Center Trees the Ax

The Forbes Plaza sits closed after construction begins on the Smith Center. It is scheduled to reopen in 2018.
The Forbes Plaza sits closed after construction begins on the Smith Center. It is scheduled to reopen in 2018.
By Bonnie K. Bennett and Christina N. Neckermann, Contributing Writers

Public outcry has sprouted over Harvard’s recent removal of four large trees from the Smith Campus Center plaza as part of a larger multi-year renovation project.

The four large Bradford pear trees provided shade in Forbes Plaza, located directly across Mass. Ave. from Harvard Yard. Although officially owned by the University, the plaza is publicly accessible and frequented by residents, homeless people, and tourists hoping to enjoy the outdoor recreational space.

“[The plaza] attracts people from all corners,” Cambridge City Councillor Jan Devereux said. “It’s a well-loved space.”

Several local residents said they were saddened by Harvard’s decision to cut the trees down for the renovations of the Smith Center.

"It’s a disaster,” Cambridge resident Eleanor M. McPeck said. “It’s a very lively, attractive place with the trees and now its lost its charm and character.”

Gregory H. Daugherty, a local fixture who sells Spare Change newspapers around the plaza, said locals already miss the trees.

“When you come through this area here, when you see the trees and the birds flying around in the springtime and summertime, it was a feeling that you wanted to enjoy,” Daugherty said. “People can’t believe the trees are gone.”

Locals also said they felt shocked by the trees’ seemingly sudden removal, arguing that Harvard did not do enough to inform the public of its plans ahead of time.

“Many people felt blindsided that the trees were removed,” Devereux said. “They didn’t realize these trees were coming down, particularly in a space that so many members of the community feel very attached to.”

Harvard had previously revised its building plans in response to public criticism, providing for additional space in the plaza. More generally, Harvard has held 19 public meetings with “Harvard Square stakeholders" over the course of more than a year according to University Spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke.

"The number of trees, green space and amenities like public bathrooms, chess tables and food vendors will all be increased, benefiting both the Cambridge and Harvard communities," O'Rourke wrote.

Despite the plans for new trees, Devereux said she was worried many aging residents will not be able to see “the new trees reach the same canopy and breadth” as the older trees.

Harvard Environmental Action Committee Co-Chair Sabrina G. Devereaux ’18 said she hoped Harvard would make up for the trees’ removal.

“It is always sad when people cut down trees, especially with greenhouse gases and [carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere being such a large problem,” Devereaux said. “Those trees were probably decades old. I just hope Harvard does more to compensate for that loss.”

Others, however, are optimistic about the changes the renovations will bring to the plaza.

“I always hate to see a tree cut,” Donald H. Pfister, professor of botany and former interim dean of the College, said. “In this case, I think it’s part of a larger plan, so what can I say? They’re gone now. They will be replaced by this atrium, and it will be something wonderful.”

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