Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Why they cut down all of the trees in Phoenix, Arizona

I speak for the trees. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where there are trees that arch over the neighborhood streets. Even though I've lived in Phoenix since I was a teenager, I still need to walk under tall trees sometimes. I don't know if it comes from being a Midwesterner, but I feel better around trees. I would like to think that everyone does.

I collect old photos of Phoenix, and what really catches my eye is the amount of trees that Phoenix used to have. Phoenix is much older than I had ever suspected, going back to 1870. And that's long before the invention of air conditioning, which pretty much made trees unnecessary, I guess.

But trees did more than shade the un-air-conditioned buildings of Phoenix. They were planted along the canals to show off that life could now flourish here in the desert. They were wind breaks along the edges of farms. And the palm trees showed that the valley had been made into an oasis.

Unfortunately, trees are messy. They are expensive to maintain. They use up valuable land that could be used for another lane of traffic, or more parking space. If you want to see the trees of old Phoenix, drive along Central Avenue north of Bethany Home Road. And if someone stops and tries to make a left turn, you can see why an additional lane would keep traffic moving. But here at least, the decision was made to keep the trees, and put up with the inconvenience of not having another lane.

The argument that I often hear against trees are that they take too much water, and that, after all, this is a desert. And then these people who are cutting down trees go and pour thousands of gallons of water on Bermuda grass, or fill their pools.

Take a look at the photos of old Phoenix, and especially look at the trees. And if you want Phoenix to look like that again, plant a tree, and care for it. Speak for the trees.

Image at the top of this post: looking north on Central Avenue in 1919 from the Heard Building, between Adams and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona.

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  1. Speaking of canals, there was a good episode of Arizona Stories about cooling off. Here’s a transcript - http://www.azpbs.org/arizonastories/keepingcool.htm

  2. One issue was the type of trees planted, which really were not suited for the climate and did, indeed, use tons of water. We had a plethora of olive trees, which are horrible in the pollen departments, and all kinds of non-native species, plus things like mulberries that never last. I'm just glad to see a resurgence of planting and with more native or location-friendly varieties.