Let the trees invade the city
The mayor’s office announced in 2009 a target to increase Greater London’s tree cover by 5% over the next 15 years. This means that more than two million trees need to be planted – or about 133,000 trees per year. The number will be impressive if it is attainable, and the impact of that many new trees would be felt from the inner city to the far flung suburbs.
While I do question the figures (if two million trees represent 5% of the existing tree cover, then the existing treescape should include about 40 million trees – or approximately five trees per person!), it is refreshing to hear about a renewed focus on trees during these times of budget cuts, job losses and effort to achieve ever greater efficiencies.
While the announcement is a couple years old, today the Mayor of London released a guide for designers, planners and developers called The Canopy. The guide is to assist in understanding the benefit of trees (from aesthetic and increasing property values to promoting biodiversity and improving air quality) and providing basic technical guidance (including general siting information, expense based on planting location and growth potential). Finally case studies are given to illustrate the potential of trees in a development, design and planning context.
While the guide is informative and written in an accessible with plenty of clear graphics, I wonder how much of an impact it will have. At the New London Architecture’s launch today, the first two questions from the audience focused on local emotional issues. The first person used the opportunity to question policies that would allow the removal of mature trees in a London park (apparently a park masterplan is redesigning the space so that it can host large festival events and provide better access from surrounding streets). The second question focused on irrational targets when quality is preferred (as two examples, Camden was used to illustrate the apparent illogical focus on banning the felling of any tree in the borough and Hammersmith and Fulham was used to highlight the apparent preference for apple and pear street trees).
Without going into too much detail, on one side, someone was passionately against the removal of trees – any mature tree in the specific setting – while the other side focused on the irrational retention of trees and provision of new trees.
Trees are an emotional issue, and need to be addressed locally. I would find it nearly impossible to conceive how you would implement a policy to introduce 133,000 new trees a year throughout London without clear local engagement. As a tree champion, I find it difficult to understand why street trees should not be planted up and down every street. However, over the last few years, I understand that huge battles have been fought for and against streets in our neighbourhoods. Issues ranged from the technical (there isn’t enough ground space for roots with existing utilities, visibility will be reduced for drivers, or the street is too narrow) to the personal (I do not want less sunshine in my flat, I will have to clean sap off my car and clean up after leaves, or crime activity will increase).
Perhaps the Government’s new emerging localism agenda would be best suited to deliver trees to those who want them in London. Perhaps the residents along a local street could agree that they want trees to line their street and simply request this via the Mayor’s office. With the policy in place, and a funding stream, perhaps it would be that easy to see results.