Two of my ongoing retail clients just told me that we have too many trees in their designs. “Take them out,” was the order. Then last week there was a book about Islamic cities lying on one of my colleague’s desks. I flipped through it and saw the following: Examples of disallowance in streets: number… Read more »
Two of my ongoing retail clients just told me that we have too many trees in their designs. “Take them out,” was the order. Then last week there was a book about Islamic cities lying on one of my colleague’s desks. I flipped through it and saw the following: Examples of disallowance in streets: number 1, planting of trees in a public right-of-way.
It was quite shocking to me, from the cultivated, common-sense perspective of a landscape designer. Don’t they want the shade created by trees in those burning hot desert cities? I tried to calm down but on the next page I saw this: The case of a mature tree which has extended into a public right-of-way: if a tree does cause harm to passers-by within a public right-of-way, then those portions of the tree that cause harm should be trimmed or cut. Okay, I think the planning principles for an ancient Islamic city share the same vision as my clients: that they are “people-oriented.”
So, do people complain about trees? According to a New York Times report from 2011, three of the top five categories of parks-related complaints to New York’s city help line involved trees, for example, buckling sidewalks, dangling limbs, excessive shade, and leaf litter. And, of course, too many trees are partially responsible for the flourishing coyote communities in both Manhattan and Brooklyn.(!)
Then what about places not meant for people, but just meant for trees? There has been discussion that there are too many trees in the Sierra Nevada Forest, that they’re contributing to California’s drought. In some areas, the trees are twice as dense as a few decades ago, resulting in less runoff to streams, which means less water goes to the reservoirs supplying South California’s drinking water.
I know none of these things has anything to do with the request from my clients; all they want is to make sure no trees block the shop façades or circulation flow in their retail centers. Being landscape designers, we have a natural fascination with all those green, living things. But now I wonder, do the majority of people care about having trees at all? Maybe something else that provides seasonal change, creates shade, and makes space equally soft will do the job—it doesn’t have to be tree.
Since I haven’t figure out what the tree replacement will be, for now I will still try to convince my clients to save some trees in their designs.
Xiaohuan Yuan is a designer in the Laguna Beach studio.