Yoko Ono’s ‘Wish Tree’ in Detroit to get new life

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroiters can wish again.

Or at least they will be able to on Tuesday when the city’s forestry service replants the Yoko Ono Wish Tree on the grounds of the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown. The ginko tree planted in April 2000 when Yoko Ono visited and installed what was to be the first permanent wish tree exhibit.

A recent visit to the site reveals a boulder commemorating the occasion. Attached is a plaque that reads: "WISH TREE for Detroit. Whisper your wish to the bark of the tree. yoko ono 2000 spring."

But the patch where the tree should stand has little grass, no tree, and a sizable pigeon population.

The original wish tree site at the former Times Square Park was preserved at the transit terminal that opened in 2009.

What didn't survive is the tree itself, said Lila Silverman, who with her late husband, Gilbert, is the art patron whose friendship with Ono led to the placement of the Detroit wish tree.

Silverman said she and Ono were "close personal friends through the arts," and the Silvermans have supported at least one other Ono project locally, a Detroit Institute of the Arts exhibit called "Freight Train."

Silverman said news that the tree would be replanted is "very exciting,"

A 2003 story in The Detroit News described the Wish Tree site: "The ginkgo tree, which thrives today, represents a living sculpture, a symbol of faith in Detroit. Ono's wish for Detroit is that the city becomes beautiful and prosperous again." Ono was quoted saying "we can create a more positive future by wishing."

Attempts to reach Ono through her publicist were unsuccessful.

On Sunday, Detroiters at the transit center were asked what they wished for.

Sheila Foster, 56, started her day at 6:30 a.m., took two buses to get to the Rosa Parks Transit Center, and was smoking a cigarette while waiting to complete the last leg of the trip, boarding the Chene bus to Elmwood Park Church of Christ on Antietam near Eastern Market.

"The buses don't always run right," Foster said. Though her commute home might be just as long, Foster's wish was for "world peace."

A man who identified himself only as Brother Malik, 58, smoked a cigarette and told his granddaughters to avoid the pigeons at the transit center. But as the three were headed to church, he was trying to figure his way beyond Detroit.

"I wish I had my own home," he said. "I wish to be out of Detroit."

He set 2019 as his goal, and hopes by then to be in warmer climates in either Houston or Dallas.

"You say hi to someone here and their face gets all contorted," Brother Malik said. "I'm looking for a friendlier environment."

Tiffany Crawford, spokeswoman for Detroit Forestry Service, said vegetation has had difficulty taking hold at the transit center due to heavy foot traffic. She said the city The city has plans to put a landscaped"barrier to protect the grounds —not a fence or a chain, but perhaps rocks that serve the same purpose.

What kind of tree will be planted, and how many, is a matter of inventory, Crawford said. After the non-existence of the tree was brought to forestry services' attention, plans were made to plant at least one tree at the site before the end of 2017.