A few years ago the City Council planted trees along one of the streets next to mine. Ornamental steel tubes were thoughtfully placed around the saplings to protect them as they grew. The trees are thriving but the steel tubes (which are no longer required) have become stuffed to overflowing with empty cans, bottles and paper litter. Now the street looks pleasantly green when seen from a distance but comically untidy close up. When the Council arranged an early evening rendezvous last week between residents and the people who run our services I went along, curious to put faces to emails - and keen to raise my concern about street aesthetics.
It was an unstructured gathering attended by three residents and a dozen or so official delegates - disheartening for the organisers but useful for us as it presented an opportunity to command the undivided attention of our public servants. The other two residents, coincidentally, were on a mission to green up the neglected nooks and crannies of the urban landscape, so trees quickly became the main item of discussion. It transpired that the Council is aware of my particular concern but unable to resolve the issue promptly because of a legal complication: although the trees belong to us, the protective tubes belong to some arts organisation which designed and provided them as part of the original project. It was deemed a sensible collaboration at the time but the arts organisation, having lost its funding, is now defunct and negotiations to remove the tubes are stymied.
During this discourse I also learned that the cost of planting a city centre tree is approximately £5000 despite which, somewhere near the bottom of a prioritised list, there is a plan to plant some more as part of the rejuvenation of a nearby square. Tree-lined squares attract people and increase footfall for local businesses.
The meeting having soon disbanded for lack of attendees, I made my way to the square in question, motivated partly by curiosity but mainly by hunger and an urge to visit the noted pizzeria which has lately been established there. Pizza, once a simple, Italian street food, now features as a main course on many a menu and even has worldwide chains of restaurants devoted to it. This place, however, hopes to succeed by following a more traditional model - pizza al taglio - such as I experienced once upon a time in Rome when, near the bus station there, I queued outside a bakery for pizza which was made, once or twice a day, in big rectangular trays to be sold by the slice.
The square itself was deserted and the only bar I could see was closed. The pizzeria was open but there was no sign of life: its colourful display of pizzas, focaccia sandwiches and bottles of ruby red Montepulciano had attracted no admirers. Inside, candles flickered invitingly on the tables at the back but the tinny sound of a cheap radio echoed in the empty room. I sensed a business doomed to failure.
A young man appeared from the kitchen, apparently pleased to see me. He helped me order and, when I had taken a seat, brought me a dish of livid-green Sicilian olives. It was a bribe, an inducement to talk. As one of the two proprietors he was keen to explore ideas on how to attract business. In exchange for the olives I offered him some observations from a customer point of view and encouragement in the form of the news about the trees. By the time I left he seemed more optimistic and shook my hand warmly.
On leaving I noticed that he had placed two small bay trees in tubs outside the entrance - the vanguard, perhaps, of the coming greening. I hope he can hang on until the reinforcements arrive: he certainly knows how to make pizza.