Opposition to Street Trees

Posted by on Mar 7, 2010 in Blog Article | No Comments

3 Arguments Against Street Trees
We have been working on a comprehensive plan for a community where the City’s engineer is opposed to landscaping within the right-of-way. He argues that the root system will penetrate into drainage pipes from residential sump systems and cause flooding. 

This is not the first time I have heard of an engineer opposing right-of-way trees.  A few years ago we were developing a comprehensive plan for a fast growing community where an engineer also prohibited landscaping in the right-of-way. His argument, however, was that over time the root structure of the trees would begin to heave the sidewalk upwards and create a “trip hazard”. Nevermind the fact that there was no sidewalk requirement…

Yet still another argument I have heard is that trees cause variation in the heat/thaw cycle of pavement areas within their shadows which can cause a shortened life span for residential streets.

Pros and Cons
At this point you are probably thinking what every planner is thinking – are you kidding me? The answer is no, and communities and neighborhoods across the country are being deprived of this amenity in the name of “engineering” – really? 

I struggle with how these weak arguments can conquer the benefits of creating neighborhoods with big, majestic tree lined streets.  But, let’s assume, for this a simple discussion, that all of these are valid arguments against street trees.  

As a firm we have conducted a lot of research on this topic, and have found a plethora of data supporting right-of-way trees. For example, the International Society of Arboriculture estimates that the improvement in curb appeal due to street trees increases real estate values by 5-20%.  This on top of less quantifiable factors such as the improvement to a neighborhood’s appearance or character.  It’s a case of first impression that happens to last a long time.  Mature trees are a lot harder to come by, and their benefits significantly outweigh, the occasional sidewalk repair or sump pump mishap. 

Changing Perceptions
How do we, as planners, overcome this impasse?  It starts by revising your codes and subdivision regulations to include street trees as a requirement. The arguments from engineers and public works officials can be mitigated.  We must champion the idea that we should be planning, designing and building the neighborhoods and communities that we all want to live in. So if that that means repaving the road a year or two earlier, or shoveling asphalt in 20 years to fix that “trip hazard” the tree roots will make, so be it.

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