2016-04-21 / Opinion


Make Good First Impressions Last

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. There’s a world of truth in that expression. For that reason, we are encouraged to learn that this seems to be at least one of the underlying motivations spurring a determined group of Newporters to push for major upgrades to the land that sits astride the highway ramp from the Claiborne Pell Bridge into our city.

Talk about weak first impressions of our international resort municipality. Drive off this ramp today and turn or look to the left and you’ll see a bent-over red and white “Do not enter” sign at ramp’s end and, behind that, a stretch of barren land comprised of turf and dirt. A long row of nondescript commercial buildings occupy one side of the J.T. Connell Highway, with the usual unsightly utility poles on the bridge side of the road.

Thankfully, there are people who think we can do better.

One of them, Ronald Lee Fleming, a Newport resident and highly regarded professional planner who is said to have contributed significant financial support to this and similar projects, believes that trees hold the answer to beautifying this important Newport portal.

As Fleming wrote in a Newport This Week letter to the editor in February, Aquidneck Island was once “a place dominated at its core with great trees: beeches, now going, and elms, long gone. It holds in the mind’s eye the most majestic of memories, for it was elm-bowered avenues of an earlier age that defined traditional New England townscapes."

An artist’s rendering of what this portion of the Connell Highway would look like as a venue lined with large, majestic trees evokes Fleming’s vision. We like this vision and hope it will one day be a reality. As they say, first impressions are lasting.

Celebrating the majesty of trees, Newport Arboretum Week begins officially at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 22, at the same off-ramp on Connell Highway. The event will honor the city’s 25th anniversary of Newport’s Tree City USA designation with the planting of the first of nearly 30 trees—elms, lindens, sugar maples and scarlet oaks— among the 50,000 daffodils at the site.

Trees that will one day grace this important gateway to our city should not, of course, be confined just to this portion of the city. We can envision other parts of Newport with such “elm-bowered avenues of an earlier age.”

But a caveat: Unless the timing of new plantings is staggered, residents may once again confront a day when the city’s tree canopy, if planted all at once in 2016, begins to die 100 years from now—all at once. Homeowners seeking to create such a canopy themselves would be wise to plant a tree now, and then wait 10 years before planting another.

Good first impressions should also be lasting impressions.

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