Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Street Trees


Trees lining Main Street districts provide an inviting atmosphere for pedestrians, provide shade, add character, clean the air, and nest twinkly lights during events and holidays. According to Dan Burden, "a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree."*

Can you believe there are street tree adversaries? Some business owners fear the tree canopy will block their facades, causing them to lose customers, or perceive falling leaves as messy or a potential slipping hazard. (Honestly, anyone who blames a tree for a business failure has problems that run deeper than vegetation.)

But, the positives prevail! Plenty of studies show that street trees have economic benefits, slow traffic, encourage people to spend money, reduce crime, enhance driver safety, raise home prices, have health benefits, and make positive first impressions among visitors/customers.

Your planning department as well as local arborists and horticulturalists can be a huge help in selecting the right street trees; and the latter can talk about proper care, appropriate grates, and maintenance. Design professionals or SketchUp whizzes can create design schemes so you can visualize how a certain tree species will look on your street. Your favorite Main Street community can help show how the right kind of tree can make the district look awfully attractive and not block the facades. My favorite example of street trees done well is in Lewisburg, Penn. The photos in this blog showcase how the height and spacing of the right tree can accentuate, not detract from facades and store signage.


* If you need quantified data on the benefits of street trees, Burden's 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees is truly your best source. 

** And, Leda Marritz just blogged for Next City about how to help keep our urban trees healthy. Why is that important? She points out that the USDA Forest Service recently determined that U.S. cities are losing around 4 million trees annually!  

10 comments:

Cary said...

except Bradford Pear trees. Never plant a Bradford Pear.

Andrea Dono said...

Because they don't last long?

Michael Stumpf said...

While businesses, and certainly visitors tend to be very supportive of downtown trees, we invariably hear from that one person who thinks they will destroy his business.

In my travels I am always impressed by the places that are willing to go unconventional in their tree selection. Why not plant spruce or pines that will bring year-round greenery into the downtown? Why not go native with staghorn sumac? These make for a more interesting place.

John D. Woods said...

Thank you for the article. It is nice to see examples of how to make street trees work downtown. Notice that the selected trees are pruned with enough clearance to the first branch to allow pedestrians and motorists to see the storefronts and sign band. Notice that the trees are not all the same species. The crowns are either airy to allow glimpses of the buildings or are narrow columns that preserve more visible area. They also seem to vary the spacing to preserve views of the landmark buildings. Those are some keys that can be used to keep business owners happy. Root barriers which deflect roots downward can also be used to protect sidewalks and extend the life of the streetscape.

As for the Bradford pear, they tend to self destruct after about 8 to 15 years. The branch structure is such that as the tree grows, the pressure of new growth will split off branches. The Callery pear looks similar and offers a similar show of spring flowers, but is more long-lived. Keep in mind that flowering pear have a dense and broad crown that will block views of the buildings more than other species and many find the odor generated by the spring flowers and fall fruit decomposition to be quite offensive.

Andrea Dono said...
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Andrea Dono said...

Year-round greenery certainly would be nice and given our concerns with sustainability, using native species would be a great idea if they fit in with a downtown setting. Maybe we will see more of that in the future. As for spruce and pines... I don't know enough about landscape architecture or horticulture, but I wonder if they need more water than an environment with mostly impermeable ground can provide?

Andrea Dono said...

I appreciate your thoughtful comments here! Thank you for the details on Bradford pear. I see them falling apart a lot and never know why they appear in so many mall parking lots.

Those reasons are all why I think these trees look great and work well in downtown Lewisburg. I was curious, too, about why they have multiple species on the street. You don't see that too often. Perhaps some are replacement trees or maybe they always intended on variety.

Andrea Dono said...

Also, Lewisburg tweeted to me that they have a shade tree committee that selects the trees and they choose the ones they want. So that explains the variety along the street.

Ellen Hoj said...

Great Article. I am interested in Gingko balboa as a street tree - they have them in Asheville, NC and I'd like to use them in Wilson, NC next to a Whirligig Park. Any problems other than the occasional female fruiting unexpectedly?

Andrea Dono said...

Ellen,
Washington, DC, where I am, has tons of gingko trees throughout the city and suburbs. They are a total mess - the fallen fruit are soft and messy and the odor isn't awesome. As I recommend in my blog, you might really want to talk to local tree experts and find out what is appropriate for your climate and what will work well in commercial district.