Wednesday, February 11, 2004
The Seven Roles of the Urban Street Tree
1) Define the space of the street.
This particularly applies to streets that are too wide for the height of the buildings, streets with holes in the street wall, or suburban streets where buildings are too far apart to contain the space of the street. Mature trees provide canopy.
2) Define the pedestrian space.
3) Calm traffic and protect the pedestrian from cars.
Aided by parked cars.
4) Filter the sunlight.
Deciduous trees, unlike evergreen or palm, serve different functions in the summer and winter. Through photosynthesis, trees lower city temperatures in the summer and change carbon dioxide into oxygen.
5) Bring order to the street.
Trees should be laid out with regular geometries, repetition and rhythm, consistent sizes and alignment.
6) Visually soften the streetscape.
And at some times of the day, the shadows are as beautiful as the trees.
7) Introduce the beauty and life of nature.
Living plants contrast with the buildings, and in many parts of the world introduce seasonal change, color and fragrance.
This has been illustrated at Page of the Month
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Tracked on Feb 17, 2004 6:04:29 AM
I really like trees in our streets for many of the reasons you outline. One of the problems, though, is choosing the right tree for the right spot.
Officers at my council tell me that because of the dry summer last year the council is vulnerable to claims against subsidance.
It's not that we should stop planting, but we need to think long term!
Posted by: Andrew Brown at Feb 18, 2004 3:31:47 AM
Regular patterns of streets are a good thing, but a little bit of randomness needs to be thrown in, or at least seemingly random streets. While at the Institute in New York in 2002, I loved the fact that it was downtown, below the grid, where the streets were laid out earlier, a bit more random, broke up the monotony that suburbs are so bad for. New Jersey is great for the lack of monotony, but the random roads have reason, they were more point oriented, to get from one town to the next was all you needed, a straight road to Morristown to Bernardsville (for example) was all that was necessary, not a straight road from Morristown to Princeton. The point is this, some allowance for breaks from the grid should be allowed, but with reason or precedent, Broadway is the greatest of these, creating THE MOST famous intersections in the world.
Posted by: Boots at Feb 28, 2004 7:51:20 PM
For quite a long time, Traditional urban design has had three factions: the Formal (like Daniel Burnham and the City Beautiful movement, or Baroque planning), the Picturesque (Sitte and Olmsted), and a combination of the two. The last group was often involved in the Garden City movement, like Raymond Unwin and Olmsted Jr.
In 1901, Charles McKim, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Burnham, Olmsted Jr. and a Congressional liaison named Charles Moore went to Europe to study prototypes for the McMillan Commission Plan for the Washington Mall and its surroundings. Their aim was to study "French planning" (i.e., the Formal) and "Italian architecture" (the Classical).
Burnham was unhappy when they got to Venice, because there were so few urban axes. Wandering the picturesque streets, they got separated from each other, which is easy in the situation.
"We'll go to the Piazza San Marco, and stand on axis, and Burnham will be there," McKim or one of the others said.
And they did and he was.
In other words, Greenwich Village is not "the best." Neither is the very regular and completely UN-random Park Avenue: both are very good. Personally, I love going to the Village, but prefer living on the Upper East Side, which is the calmest and most Classical part of Manhattan.
Many think the block of 70th Street between Park and Lexington is the most beautiful block in New York. That's because of the beautiful houses on that block, the trees that soften the axis, the comfortable block length caused by the addition of extra north-south streets to the East Side of Manhattan, and the vistas of Central Park in one direction and the open sky above the East River in the other.
An interesting exercise is to compare various blocks between Park and Lexington Avenues to see how much difference variations in the architecture, the trees, the setbacks, etc. can make.
But I've never heard anyone come back from Paris saying, Gee, those Parisian boulevards aren't random enough!
Posted by: John Massengale at Feb 29, 2004 1:00:35 PM
No I wouldnt complain about that in Paris, though I have no personal experience of that city. I think your exegesis of the different styles of thought on planning was great.
I guess the point is this, to avoid both the pointless monotony of grids in suburbs, as well as the pointless randomness. Most of the suburbs I see out here in the west in fast growing areas like Las Vegas and Boise, the major street grids are planned, ie straight major arterials, and the local streets are designed (albeit poorly) for the picturesque. As you say the Upper East Side and the Village are great for the opposites, so too the burbclaves are bad for opposites. Rigid patterns and complete randomness are both ugly, but wandering streets and long vistas like in the Village or Park ave are beautiful, why?
Is it Reason behind each? The Village was laid out in "ancient" times, but reasonably by each building next to each other, closely knit such that it was a community, serving the needs of an entirely walking town. Shortest distance to its heart was the reason, perhaps also because of topography. Today the burbclaves level the ground and use nothing of the natural and artificial surroundings to determine the layout. the traditional way looks to nature to arrange, the modern: man alone.
Now the Upper East Side is totally planned, but it is beautiful too, because like nature it allows for a bit of "wiggle" there are planned breaks from the grid, extra side Avenues, etc. The absence of true uniformity through detail can be planned too, there lies the genius of past designers of the past. Art is an imitation of nature, and in nature things are regular sometimes, but never absolutely perfect, imperfections in architecture are sometimes what's needed.
Posted by: Boots at Feb 29, 2004 2:31:42 PM
An artist can make whatever rules he or she wants if it helps that artist make more beautiful places. But saying to OTHERS that the picturesque is better than the formal is no different than saying blue is better than red. There are many beautiful places that contradict your rules, like Paris and Italian Renaissance cities. Reality trumps theory.
History shows that urban design always suffered when one school attempted to assert its superiority.
Posted by: John Massengale at Feb 29, 2004 7:43:36 PM
Oh, fair enough. I think I was a bit hurried in writing the previous reply, I'm writing a more coherent post on my thoughts on the subject. I do think that it is as Aristotle says, "virtue is found in the mean," and that definately applies here.
Posted by: Boots at Feb 29, 2004 9:49:41 PM
i follow your jottings with a great deal of delight...
i describe myself as a lapsed architect...actually i do urban design
i saw a bloke at denver who i thought was you... but was not... i would love to catch up for a chat ... maybe atlanta...
i will send you my jottings from time to time
Posted by: peter annand at Aug 6, 2009 10:37:27 PM