Benjamin Swett

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New York City of Trees (2013)

Winner of the New York Society Library's
2013 New York City Book Award for Photography

It is common to talk about how trees improve living conditions in cities by filtering and cooling the air, absorbing excess rainwater, and making neighborhoods more attractive, but little has been said about the equally important role of trees as storehouses of a city’s past. Just as trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and hold it for many years in their woody tissue, so do they sequester the shared experiences of the people who live alongside them. The growth rings of trees contain, in organized fashion, physical manifestations of the world and of the human presence in it at different times in a tree’s history. Trees also store memories through the associations they carry for the people who live alongside them and see them every day. By looking at a group of trees I have known over many years, scattered around the five boroughs of New York City, I have tried to show how much of the life of New York is contained in its trees. The book was published in 2013 by the Quantuck Lane Press and received support from Furthermore: a project of the J.M. Kaplan Fund. It is designed by Laura Lindgren with a map by Myra Klockenbrink.

"New York is a city built atop a forest. And in a forest,
every tree has a story. As this wonderfully personal
account of the trees of New York City amply demonstrates,
the trees are still here, idiosyncratic, communicative, full of
personality, standing for the ages with a resolute
perseverance that does our forest-city proud . . . ."

- Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist
at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and author of
Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City.

 

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