Published on Sustainable Cities

Washington’s Cherry Blossoms: The Gift that Keeps Giving

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Cherry Trees, Washington, DCOne of the best things about living in Washington DC is riding your bike to work, early in the morning, past the blossoming cherry trees along the tidal basin. Sometimes you have to actually stop for a moment, the trees are so beautiful. Thank you, Governor (Mayor) Ozaki Yukio: He gave the trees to the up and coming Washington DC in 1912.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the City of Tokyo’s original gift of 3020 cherry trees. You would be hard pressed to find a more perfect gift, or a more perfect example of how the cities we live in, and the globally-minded ones overseas, improve our day-to-day quality of life.

Many people are not aware that Washington’s cherry trees are a city-to-city gift. Nor that there’s now a two-way exchange as the National Parks Committee, today’s keeper of the trees, sends back to Japan cuttings from especially robust specimens. Collectively today’s 3750 trees have survived droughts, flooding, millions of trampling tourist feet, the cutting of five trees by enraged locals on the announcement of Pearl Harbor, and a few pesky beavers apparently imported from Canada.

For the economist the trees are a wondrous investment. This year the trees are expected to bring in about 1 million tourists and a $200 million economic impact for the City. For the city planner the trees have anchored development around the tidal basin; efforts over the last hundred years have always been tempered by the desire to minimize disruption to the trees. For the health conscious there’s likely no better place to walk, jog or ride than alongside the trees. And for everyone who loves cities and city life, the trees highlight a balance that’s still possible between aesthetics and utility.

Cities like Tokyo and Washington DC are made more livable by gifts, professionalism of staff, and those hard to quantify but always critical aspects of community spirit and positive attitudes. Livable cities bear witness to how goodwill can help all, and how a seemingly small initiative like giving a few thousand trees between the people of two cities can grow into something as special as a magical morning ride along the tidal basin. Thank you, Tokyo.


Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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