The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favourite trees.
“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.
“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”
This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.
The city of Melbourne recently assigned the trees ID numbers and email addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches.
The “unintended but positive consequence, ”was that people did more than just report issues, says chair of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood. They also wrote directly to the trees, which have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.
The city council has devised an interactive urban forest map that provides individual data on each of the 70,000 trees that line the streets and parks of central Melbourne. Each tree is assigned an identification number, which allows you to email it. Ostensibly this is to report damaged branches.
But instead their inboxes have been swamped with messages, from the tree lovers, which range from the heartwarming to the bizarre – with one anonomous writer telling his favourite tree, “I’m sorry you’re going to die soon.”
The letters were disclosed to The Atlantic by Melbourne Councillor Arron Wood, who has redacted the authors’ names to protect their privacy.
“The email interactions reveal the love Melburnians have for our trees,” Mr Wood said, “We were surprised and delighted to find that many people all over the world feel the same way.”
Several missives came from as far afield as Russia, Singapore, Brazil, Denmark and Hong Kong – and some admit they have never even visited the city.
One tree fan emailed their favourite golden elm telling it to keep up the good work, while a London plane tree was complimented on its beauty. A green leaf elm was urged to stay in good shape by a wellwisher moving abroad.
Melbourne’s email-a-tree service is one in a litany of municipal projects aimed at leveraging personal and institutional technologies to keep cities running smoothly. Such initiatives encourage civic engagement and perhaps help with city maintenance, but they also enable people’s relationship with their city to play out at the micro level.
Melbourne’s urban forest strategy was initiated in 2007 in response to a 10-year drought that gripped much of southern Australia. The city aims to double the area covered by tree canopies by 2040 to soak up more carbon dioxide and reduce the “heat island” effect common in cities.
Eucalypts are the most common trees found in Melbourne, followed by plantanus and ulmus. Other species include ficus and acacia trees.
It is expected that Melbourne will lose more than four in 10 of its trees over the next 20 years due to old age. About 3,000 trees will need to be planted until 2040 to replace those trees and increase canopy cover.
One sweet message to the Golden Elm Tress in Melbourne read:
To: Golden Elm, Tree ID 1037148
21 May 2015
I’m so sorry you’re going to die soon. It makes me sad when trucks damage your low hanging branches. Are you as tired of all this construction work as we are?
To: Algerian Oak, Tree ID 1032705
2 February 2015
Dear Algerian oak,
Thank you for giving us oxygen.
Thank you for being so pretty.
I don’t know where I’d be without you to extract my carbon dioxide. (I would probably be in heaven) Stay strong, stand tall amongst the crowd.
You are the gift that keeps on giving.
We were going to speak about wildlife but don’t have enough time and have other priorities unfortunately.
Hopefully one day our environment will be our priority.