Wandering around New York, and more used to spotting anti-dog shit signs, I was struck by signs posted to trees telling dog owners not to let their dog urinate against trees. I saw the sign below on 11th Street, Brooklyn near Prospect Park. It says “Be kind to city trees – they have a hard life.”
I spotted others on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.
These signs are all located in well-heeled areas near major city parks that presumably get a lot of dog-walking traffic.
This is apparently not a recent development. A 1998 New York Times article reported how Maggie McComas of the West 84 Street Association had put up anti-dog urine signs, and quoted Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern: “Dogs like to lift their legs on something, but it should not on be a tree.” The signs also caused a minor controversy. Responding to criticism that her signs had damaged the trees, McComas clarified that they were attached with twine and not nails or staples: “I would never commit an act that could contribute to arborcide.”
As vestiges of nature in the so-called urban jungle, New York’s street trees have raised questions about whether or not nature could survive in metropolis, and about public and private property (who owns them? who should protect them?). The signs also echo previous attempts to save the city’s fragile trees, even if the main enemy was real estate developers back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see Max Page, The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, 1999). The tension now is between two aspects of heavily humanized urban nature: dogs and trees. Both are treated as essential to making urban life more bearable, but their cohabitation is far from peaceful.