This week’s cutting down of trees in Harare by ZESA Holdings workers has once again brought to the fore the need to plant more trees in the city.
Lining our streets with trees costs little, although it does require a communal effort, and is something community leaders can initiate in their ward.
The original tree planting in Harare, in the central business district where they were mostly later removed to make room for more parking and the Avenues where they largely remain, was done in the very early 1900s as part of a food-for-work scheme in the serious depression following the Boer War.
So dramatic was the improvement in the look of the city after a few years of tree growth that in some, though not all, of the older suburbs steps were taken by the municipality and the town management boards to plant trees and to encourage developers to line their new roads as part of making their new suburbs more saleable.
In all these cases most householders were prepared to take a few minutes a week to chuck a bucket of water over the half-dozen saplings outside their property until the trees were established.
But now we have new suburbs with sun-baked verges and new highways glittering in the summer sun.
Yet it would not be difficult to change this. Surely along most streets residents could chose by majority vote what species they would like to see, with municipal nursery experts listing the desirable trees.
The city council could provide the seedlings for free and someone from the council could walk down the road with a bunch of stakes to mark where each tree should be planted the correct distance from road and property wall and evenly spaced.
Council workers could be used in off-peak periods to dig holes ahead of the start of the rains although householders could be invited to have the same holes dug. Most Zimbabweans are very house-proud and most verges are looked after, with gardens extended into the verges in many cases.
Whichever way it is done; householders would need to be encouraged to help look after the saplings by watering them on a weekly basis. It is not easy to see what can be done when there is no encouragement. A few years ago, Samora Machel Avenue East saw some council efforts.
In some places the council saplings are now giant trees thanks to house-proud people while in other places they are still stunted shrubs or even missing altogether because no one cared.
With an appeal, most property owners would co-operate.
We only have to look at some new developments on the city’s former open spaces and compare these to established suburbs, to realise just how much Harare owes to its trees.
And even returning to the new development five years later, when the new owners have done so much gardening and tree-planting, emphasises the need for more planned tree planting, especially as with the smaller modern plots more of the trees need to be in the street.