At first, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly go wrong with a large-scale urban tree planting program. Greening the streets checks lots of boxes when it comes to environmental amenity and health, and it’s the type of initiative that ranks quite high on many an urban regeneration wish list. But – as a recent article in New York’s City Limits discusses in great depth – you have to think about the long, long life of those trees, not just celebrate when they first go into the ground.
The article provided a crucial reminder that anything you install into the urban environment has to be maintained. Boring perhaps, but true. And if it’s damaged, it will probably need to be removed or repaired. And those things all incur costs often far above the one-off cost of planting the trees. That’s true for anything from benches to pavement stones to street lighting. Sadly, troughs of flowers or plants – lovely in the photos of Britain in Bloom! – are often particular victims of minor vandalism and theft.
Discouraging (especially at these times of budget crunches) – yes. Insurmountable – no. City Limits concluded by highlighting the work of a New York tree charity that deploys teams of citizen pruners and educators. For me, increasing local involvement and taking some form of responsibility for our streets is just as important as anything the city installs or pays for. Getting that idea across to more communities may be a long-term project, but fortunately, so are the trees.