Volume 17 • Issue 24 | Nov. 5 - Nov. 12, 2004

Tribeca resident Steve Boyce on “The Main Street of Tribeca.” Boyce hopes to see this section of Greenwich St. transformed into a town square.

Tribeca’s ‘Tree Man’ transforming Greenwich St.

By Angela Benfield

At first glance, bank vice president Steve Boyce may not seem like a guy who gets down in the dirt. But then, most people probably also don’t know that he was once known as “The Tree Man.”

But it didn’t take this Tribeca resident long on his daily walk to work along Greenwich St. near Washington Market Park, to notice that the trees were being abused. When the new park playground was under construction, Boyce saw that heavy mulching and extra soil were endangering the honey locust and oak trees. For weeks, he kept after the Parks Department to investigate the problem. After $5,000 in fines was issued for “abuse of trees” to the company that held the maintenance contract for the park, the soil was removed, and the trees were spared.

Board members of the Friends of Greenwich Street heard about this incredible rescue and quickly enlisted Boyce to join the group. Formed in 1997 for the “Greening of Greenwich Street,” they have also greatly improved the safety of the pedestrian environment by narrowing the street and providing widened sidewalks. Boyce became president last summer and continues to work on finding funding and recruiting volunteers.

Boyce thinks of Greenwich St. as “the Main Street of Tribeca,” and says it is increasingly becoming a central thoroughfare for the neighborhood’s burgeoning population. He envisions the future of the street where flower gardens will be brought back to life, badly ailing trees taken care of, and the neglected planters located on Harrison St. improved. He’d also like to see the area more of a “town square.”

“A place to be and be comfortable,” he said.

“I’ve come to see that a city without trees is a poorer, more desolate place,” said Boyce. Since his youth in the small town of Fredonia in western New York State, Boyce has had a strong interest in trees. So much so, that his friends lovingly refer to him as the “Tree Man.” Today, he is a certified “Citizen Pruner,” a position bestowed upon him by the NYC Parks Department which authorizes him to care for any street tree in New York City.

At age 52, Boyce is a vice president for the Bank of New York, a husband and father, ensconced for more than seven years on Vestry Street.

“There’s been major changes since Steve came along,” said Ron Capozzoli, a fellow board member and avid gardener. He credits Boyce with being a major force behind having two tons of dirt added to the gardens; getting underground soak hoses installed, and having fences put around the trees to protect them from dogs looking to use them as a toilet.

“He’s extremely concerned - more than anything - about the trees,” said Capozzoli.

Boyce said that the community is not fully aware that this area is neither the property of any specific landowner, nor a part of the NYC Parks Department. In fact, Friends of Greenwich Street is given the right to care for the space by the NYC Department of Transportation, which owns the land that was part of Greenwich Street before it was narrowed.

Without more support, the gardens and trees that have helped turn Greenwich Street from an unpleasant thoroughfare into a leisurely walkway could disappear.

“Surviving as a tree in New York is tough, and tougher than average along Greenwich Street due to several threats to their health,” he says. These stresses include underground heat from the Con Ed steam lines that can quickly dry out and overheat the soil killing the roots; strong winds from off the Hudson, steady abuse from visiting dogs, and salt from winter ice control. These can kill a tree slowly or quickly, and just last year, several of the 45 trees in the immediate area died.

Fortunately, with the backing of Community Board 1, Steve and Friends of Greenwich Street were able work with the Parks Department to plant four new trees near the Food Emporium. Friends of Greenwich Street is now coordinating the rescue or replacement of the trees just north of Harrison Street.

To accomplish the mission of making Greenwich Street a safer and more beautiful place, Boyce is encouraging community residents to think of it as their space, and to feel responsible for making it something to enjoy and value. He is also working to find effective ways to involve neighbors in the specific tasks of the group that are of interest to them. “It’s our choice, really. We can either support it or lose it,” he said.

In the meantime, Boyce continues to take his daily walk to work each day. While his mind races with thoughts about the future of Greenwich Street, he can’t help but notice all the dogs peeing on the trees he worked so hard to have planted. What does the “tree man” suggest these dogs do? “Take it to the curb,” he said.

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