But car parking needs, wider roads and “development” saw the clearance of large numbers of trees, eventually the city council having to rename the capital the “Sunshine City”, a fair enough description as there was not much shade. Parts of Third Street and Cameron Street give a hint of what the much more widespread central woods once looked like.
Attempts have been made since the 1970s to plant more trees in the central areas, and to boulevard the main highways out of town. But these efforts have been compromised by the lack of aftercare given the trees and the fact that a small hole in a paved area is not a good start.
Sometimes the choice of trees has been wrong. Jacarandas with their insatiable demand for nutrients will not flourish in heavily built up areas and the Australian bottlebrush trees seem to top out at very low heights when planted along Samora Machel Avenue.
We suspect that some species were chosen simply because the seedlings were readily available, without much research being done on what was suitable and what would eventually look good and cause no damage. Those fig roots in some streets are pretty deadly.
Yet suitable indigenous trees are available. Private developers have managed to plant fast-growing large trees in their car parks: Westgate and Letombo show what can be done while Avondale, with good trees in one half and bad trees in the other, shows the danger of assuming that land preparation is a luxury.
Trees planted along roadside need care, at least for their first few years. Samora Machel Avenue East had a good plan, with tall trees along the edges and palms in the central divide.
But many of these have died since no one bothered to look after them. Patches show that caring house-owners did make a difference, but those patches are too few.
Now the city faces the “deforestation” of great swathes of the Avenues, since the ubiquitous jacaranda has a lifespan of little over a century. Those tiny seedlings planted as replacements last season seem to have a very low survival rate unless landowners were prepared to water them; and without fertilizer are not likely to grow fast.
But planting trees, and caring for trees, is not a high-tech operation. Proper preparation of holes, a modest amount of fertilizer and some watering will do miracles.
The city council needs to do some serious planning now, while it is finally taking control of its parking and ending the chaos that exists in swathes of the city centre.
There are places were thousands of trees could be planted right now in the city centre. A tree does not take up much room, and so knocking out one parking bay could probably provide room for two trees along a stretch of road with angled parking and about four trees where a parallel parking bay is lost.
If tree planners work with the parking bay planners as the new metres are installed, it should be possible to repaint the bay markings in such a way as to leave a few tree sites along each block with the loss of only one or two bays.
Another place for trees is in the centre of streets, even one-way streets. That central island along a stretch of Jason Moyo Avenue does not seem to impede traffic but does stop wild lane changing by cowboy drivers; they have to choose in advance which side of the avenue they want to be on.
The narrower side streets, such as George Silundika and Speke Avenues, could also host central trees once the turning circles at their First Street ends are cleared of illegally parked cars, presumably a priority with the new parking programme.
The loss of a few parking bays will not be serious if the council sticks to its guns and has fairly expensive parking right in the city centre for shoppers and business customers but accepts suggestions that streets close to the centre, such as Central Avenue, can have parking priced at around US$2 a day as commuter parking for those who work in the city. Car parks and parkades are not large enough at the moment.
The greening of the city can go along with a rational parking system.
We also suspect that if the council approaches tenants and landlords along the streets and avenues where it is planting trees, and asks them to take on some trees, or even one tree, being prepared to water them and chuck on a handful of fertilizer now and then, it will find ready takers. Most people want a more pleasant city centre.
The same sort of semi-sponsorship can be done in the Avenues and the streets leading out of the city centre.
It requires the council to become more involved with residents, but that surely is what it was elected to do.
Greening Harare, or rather re-greening Harare, is possible. But it does require a joint effort and does mean the council must start taking some initiatives in community programmes.