What neighbor can walk by without joining in?

How A Cherry Tree Can Make a Better Street

One of the best things about my neighborhood is how often something “interesting” happens. Bagpipers practice in a parking lot.  Tourists try to use a Nice Ride.  A couple carries a full-size dining room table down the sidewalk.  Zombies careen onto the bus.  Rock cairns collapse when a bird lands – as designed.

This street needs help.

This street needs help.

I benefit so much from all those interesting things, I feel like I need to return the favor now and again.  But I’m lazy, and I’m not very creative.  That said, I think I’ve found a way to carry my weight making my street more interesting. And as you can see, my street needs some help, between the lack of shade and massive parking lots.

I like growing food in my yard, and I only ever do perennials. (Annuals take too much work.  I’m lazy.)  So, I’ve got a bunch of [organic] fruit trees.  My favorite is a North Star Cherry tree, planted a tad too close to the sidewalk.

A Tad Too Close to the Sidewalk

A Tad Too Close to the Sidewalk

It’s a dwarf tree, so it’s only 13 feet high, but it’s prolific. Every year, it gets LOTS of tiny cherries that are now ready for picking.

I think of the tree as a community building tool. My home is near a Nice Ride kiosk, multiple restaurants, an ice cream shop, and stores that sell cute useless stuff. Lots of people walk past the house, and sitting on the porch in June you see many stop to look.  Somewhat often they peer around and ask, “Is this a cherry tree?”

[Note:  when fruiting, it is obviously a cherry tree. If you ask a four-year-old to draw a cherry tree, this is what they draw.]

The tree — when in fruit — makes my street interesting.

I take it further.  There are way more cherries than I can use, so it’s my excuse for a front-yard party.  The 10th Annual Cherry Harvest was last weekend.  I invited my neighbors, including the ones from across the alley who don’t talk to the renters on my side of the block.  Setting up ladders in the sidewalk and having half a dozen kids and a couple supervising adults around the tree draws in neighbors and passers-by. The unusual activity makes it easy for strangers to interact for a few moments.

What neighbor can walk by without joining in?

What neighbor can walk by without joining in?

For attendees, the draw is the family-friendly event.  Little kids especially love doing meaningful work.  (When they arrive, the cherries are on the tree, then in their bowl, through their cherry pitter, into their coffee cake, and finally in their stomachs. Fun!) Adults can choose to elbow their way to the tree or to let the child-free adults supervise while they chat with other adults. Everyone takes some cherries home.

I’m rather amazed what this one plant does as a community-building tool. At neighborhood meetings when we compare addresses, it’s not infrequent that people give a smile of recognition when I say, “I live in the house with the cherry tree in the front yard.”  That even worked in Duluth, one time.  This weekend it was a conversation starter for the back-yard garages sale. It introduced me to Michael (I invited him to come to the party). It tempted my neighbor to the north to stop by for the first time. At the party, I tested some infused rum a guest brought thanks to last year’s harvest. Plus I got to hang out with friends and get help with my harvest.

The bigger benefit is the community-building. Neighbors meet, and discover those renters aren’t so scary after all. We get to look forward to familiar faces at the next neighborhood annual meeting.

What’s the best community-building trick on your street or in your neighborhood?  What’s YOUR contribution?

How to Pick a Cherry

How to Pick a Cherry


About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

12 thoughts on “How A Cherry Tree Can Make a Better Street

    1. Janne Flisrand Post author

      🙂 The tree fruits off of spurs, and if the stem is improperly removed, it damages the spur and produces less fruit in future years. While it is POSSIBLE to remove the stems without damaging the trees, this is fool-proof and has a side benefit that pitting the cherries is easier.

  1. Nathan Campeau

    Great story, thanks for sharing! I planted a bunch of raspberries near the alley several years ago and the neighborhood kids stop by all summer long. This past May one little girl asked if she could stop by and get some raspberries because she was so anxiously awaiting the coming harvest. Nothing makes me happier than to get home from work and see that all the ripe raspberries from that day are gone.

    I like your idea of a fruit harvest party. I’ll have to try that later this summer.

  2. Rosa

    This is great! Our neighbors have a cherry tree and the results are similar – last year, we were picking cherries (by invitation!) and my son spent most of the time we were there offering cherries to passersby and people waiting at the bus stop.

    But I think the most community building thing any of us does is shoveling – everyone stops to chat, or say thank you, or compare winter horror stories.

  3. Betsey BuckheitBetsey Buckheit

    Other sorts of trees can work, too. Our neighborhood has an annual crabapple blossom festival with Japanese music, neighbor-written haiku and ice cream. When the city reconstructed our street, they planted (with some guidance from the neighbors) a series of pink and white ornamental crabapple trees on the side of the street with the utility lines (part of the city’s plan to try and avoid the brutal “trimming” of larger trees near power lines). Now, we watch the trees in the spring and talk about when it will be just the right time…a judgment is made, invitations are delivered and we meet under the lovely blossoms (and we have something to talk about the rest of the year, too).

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