It’s Valentine’s Day so I’ve decided to come down to see you and give you some much needed love.
A heavy hearted walk around you soon revealed that there were only two diehard protestors left. A man and woman. A broken Adam and Eve in a razed Garden of Eden with not an apple tree in sight.
Defeat pegged in their shoulders. They are ill from their long winter months of protest to try and save your trees.
In between coughs and rainstorms they tell me of the ‘deaths’ of the four hundred trees that they had counted in recent weeks, a lot of which were the cherry trees that used to tower over the muddy path we were stood on.
‘It’s not just the trees they’ve killed,’ said the five foot tall woman dressed in mud splattered black outdoor clothing, ‘they are killing everyone, the trees, the wildlife, us, the planet!’
She swung an arm out one hundred and eighty degrees in front of her tired torso, a dystopian tour guide to the destruction.
‘The trees were our lungs of the city,’ she added.
‘Whose trees? Our trees!’
At the beginning of year the council started to cut down the huge trees in neglected areas of the park on the Claremont Road side of Alexandra Park.
The protestors turned up first a few months before the first tree was felled and took up residency in tattered tents.
Their bravery soon branched out and every weekend they were joined by hundreds of people from the local community for what became known as ‘Demo Saturday’.
By and large, most people agree with the council that the park needs some TLC. It’s how it’s being done that has got people from all walks of this life together coalescing in a loose protest group called Save Alexandra Park’s Trees (SAPT).
As with most things the argument is never black and white, the reality is much more nuanced. However, the main stumbling block is over the amount of and which trees are being felled.
As friends and families, dog walkers, people of all ages and creeds walked around on the first Demo Saturday a SAPT member pointed out a dying oak and said, ‘Why aren’t they taking that out instead?’
As we reached the sad sight of the avenue where the first fifty trees had been felled tensions rose.
A bearded black leather jacketed protestor psyched out a policeman by filming him right up in his face.
He roused everyone with shouts of, ‘Whose trees? Our trees!’
Another protestor shouted, ‘Let’s go to the homes of the council and start chopping trees down in their back gardens and see how they like that!’
A cop snickered at a woman who shouted until she was blue in the face that he should speak to his boss about quitting because it isn’t his job to kill birds it’s his job to save them.
On the last Demo Saturday I walked with Nev, a mountain of a man, in his grey towelling hoodie and matching trackie b’s down the decimated avenue.
‘They’re heartless cunts,’ he said.
I nodded my head hesitatingly in silence.
There was no doubt this was a horrible sight seeing all these trees laid to waste. I was struck dumb at the sight before my damp eyes and scanned disc after disc of wood cleaved open like discarded Connect 4 chips. The amosphere was as heavy as a wooden coffin.
A worker on the project from the council told me tensions are high in the locality at the moment and they were apprehensive at being connected to the project for fear of repercussions from neighbours.
‘People don’t like change,’ they said, ‘but Alexandra Park needs upgrading.
‘We’re making the park better in the long term, safer, more open and friendlier with new sports facilities for people to play tennis on six new courts.
‘There’s more than £5 million being invested into the park, around 100 trees are being planted to replace the 250 we’re taking down, it will be better for everyone.’
I wondered about their words as I wandered around the disaster zone.
I knew what they meant.
The park had become a sorry state in some parts through years of neglect and under-funding from successive local and national governments.
It began life in 1870 as an urban park with the initial purpose to ‘deter the working men of Manchester from the alehouses during their day off’. Since then the 60 acre municipal green space that borders on Whalley Range, Hulme and Moss Side has played a variety of vital roles in the lives of the people of Manchester.
In the 80s and 90s though after years of neglect for our parks and green spaces Alexandra Park barely made it to the new millennium as a pleasant place anymore. It became a park with an urban edge.
It is fair to say some days when I’m running through you and stare at the over-grown bushes I wonder if someone’s going to jump out and mug me. It makes me run faster. In my own strange twisted logic I thank the park for that feeling and figure it will add five years to me life in the long run.
Then I remembered something else from one of my runs.
One autumn morning I saw two people I knew dressed to the nines at the top of the magnificent avenue of lime trees. It was their wedding day. They were taking pictures of themselves under the outstretched arms of the trees boughed heavy with green, yellow, orange and red leaves. The sun was low in the sky, and beams of light played with each leaf in each trees that stretched back behind them for a good mile.
Love Teresa Green xx
This is piece was published for Blank Media Collective as A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Destruction: A Love Letter to Alexandra Park by Teresa Green