Needless to say, the cartoon below about street tree trimming in Alameda, California certainly depicts some of the worst examples that could be seen across the country. Here in the Midwest, the top-left image is more often referred to as “goal post” or “touchdown” instead of “crotch,” but all three nicknames get the point across.
All too often trimming done by utilities and road departments eventually ends up looking like the bottom row. At that point, it is hardly a tree any longer.
What seems to be forgotten by those wielding the chain saws and decision-making authority is that most street trees are an essential and beneficial part of a community’s infrastructure. Here is a weblink to a very useful and informative document by Dan Burden describing the 22 reasons while street trees benefit your community. Cheers!
I can’t disagree with any of the praise in Dan Burden’s document for street trees. But recently I decided I’m not really in favor of them. One reason is that human use of trees for streetside plantings exploits them just for our needs, with no respect for the community and ecosystem they’d be involved with and help create in their wild home places. Many placements of these trees put them under so much stress that arborists have lists of species which can tolerate these stresses and deprivations.
The other reason is that the fallen leaves (especially of our beloved deciduous species) and, after strong wind events, fallen twigs and branches and sometimes trunks, end up on sidewalks, streets, and parked vehicles, creating problems for cleanup and after strong wind events, often damaging vehicles and even people.
When I think about new construction of a city block or more, in a place where trees can grow, I will prefer to plant them well away from the sidewalks and streets, surrounded by much larger soil-based groundscaping, where it will be easier to let the leaves fall and be composted naturally; where trees can be planted in more naturalistic multi-species groupings. Some deciduous trees can still help shade homes in summer, and let winter light in, but the trees will be allowed to live their own lives, while we enjoy them and get some benefits. People will have to figure out how to get the benefits of street trees without the trees. It has been done before. If I were in a position to mastermind such a construction project, I’d (really!) include giving out broad-brimmed sun hats, of cloth, possibly with the logo of the community on it, to all residents.
Our tree warden typically meets with the trimming contractor before they start and during the process and offers help and ideas for trimming. He helps monitor and deal with complaints from townspeople and residents. By being proactive and helpful He has helped the town avoid the results you see typically. We have had residents and government officials from other Maine Cities and Towns question why our trees do not look like theirs once trimming is complete.
Sounds like a very well run program there. Thank you for the feedback.