A landscape architect sent me an email about his experience submitting landscape plans to councils and architects. He made some good points which I thought were worth sharing...
LA: I feel that Councils are loathe to increase their maintenance burden or deal with additional complaints from residents about trees so it's often easier to just install small, inoffensive ones (or avoid them altogether) so that no-one will complain about leaf drop, limb drop, kerb lifting, blocked views etc.
Me: A lot of truth in this and I also talk about it here. As an ex-Manager Parks and Gardens I can attest to the enormous increase in Parks Department workloads over the last 30 years (lots of reasons - I won't go into it here) and a corresponding "lets-not-make-work-for-ourselves-where-we-don't-have-to" mentality. It's understandable, but it's also not the answer. As I say in this post, the onus remains on us (the Parks industry) to sell the message that the advantages of big, leafy trees outweigh any disadvantages.
LA: Council engineers often require root control devices which we know are ineffective and can even stunt tree growth; engineers also often demand excessively large clear zones around infrastructure in order to prevent any possible chance of root damage. Meanwhile, we are left with heat islands!
Me: I've never been convinced about root control systems. I've seen too many situations where the tree simply makes a mockery of them. Parks people often install them just to keep the peace but it's certainly debatable that they do much good long term - and quite possibly they do harm. My conclusion after many years observation is that we're probably jumping at shadows a bit these days because of our increasingly litigious society. We've all heard (seen) the horror stories about root damage to infrastructure but what we don't talk about is how often large trees don't cause any problems at all! My experience is that this is actually the norm - it just doesn't make the headlines.
LA: Everyone wants the benefits of trees but no-one wants to give up the space, money and time to provide them.
Me: I love this! What a great summary of the problem. "Nimby-ism" I think they call it :) But as the evidence continues to mount for the astonishing benefits of trees, this will change. It has to. The cost of not having trees will become too great. Here in Perth we're still a bit behind the times on this score but there are definitely signs the message is starting to sink in.
LA: Architects often don't want large trees in front of their buildings in case they obscure them; they are often more concerned about day-one presentation than long term liveability.
Me: Yes. And it's not just architects. Business owners often have the same mentality. They would rather have hot, glary carparks than plant a tree which might possibly obscure their signage from certain angles. All I can say is I avoid such carparks like the plague so, presuming I'm not alone, this thinking is actually counter productive.
LA: Unfortunately in Perth we have too often planted the wrong tree in the wrong spot leading to a backlash against trees generally.
Me: Yep. We have to get it right. And that actually takes a lot of thought (see my three part "How To Choose A Street Tree" article). I'm going to talk some more about this soon - namely, that we need to start choosing street trees with a designer's eye first and a horticulturist's eye second. In other words, figure out what we want the trees to do in terms of size, shape, colour, light, shade pattern etc and then put our horticulturist cap on and consider what trees are at our disposal to deliver these things.
BOTTOM LINE: This is really all about culture change. Western Australians need to learn to love trees and their messy habits and stop worrying so much about neat. Neat doesn't fly with trees. We need to choose one or the other. But we can also help ourselves by re-designing our verges and front gardens to cater for leaf litter rather than fighting it. More about that soon too...