Thursday, March 25, 2010

City Attractiveness - City Image with Trees

Many landscape studies exist where landscape analysis and landscape perception surveys have been used to identify ways in which people view landscapes. This article takes a different approach and leaves aside landscaping, landscape planning, landscape construction and focuses on one element in the landscape – trees. It also addresses the issue how to change the image of a city by selecting the right tree.

This article is based on experiences and cases in New Zealand. New Zealand is a young country in terms of European immigration with only 160 years of modern history. New Zealand was inhabited by the Maori over 1000 years ago. They voyaged from other pacific islands and brought with them a limited number of plants and generally hunted birds for  food and cultivated their special crops.

Europeans brought with them a great range of trees and plants and set about shaping an English landscape, especially in the cities.

Trees are essential elements in the natural or man made landscape.  As essential elements they may be native (indigenous) or introduced. Native trees are well adapted for the climate in New Zealand, can be used in a variety of locations and they will grow well. Trees live for a long time – the oldest tree known is approximately 1000 years old.  In New Zealand many of the common indigenous trees growing in their native habitat may be 200 – 300 years old.  The oldest introduced trees are approximately 160 years old.  The choice of the right sort of trees for the future city image is therefore very important.

Looking at a few examples where tree choice has been regarded by the locals and visitors as an important part of the city image we can start to understand a little more about developing an image based on choice of trees.

Marine Parade, Napier. Norfolk Island Pines providing a subtropical image.
  • Inner City, Napier. Recent plantings of palm trees providing a subtropical image.
  • Oriental Parade, Wellington. Norfolk Island Pines providing a subtropical image.
  • Main Streets, Invercargill. Cabbage tree providing the form and texture of a plant that grows in a hot dry area.
  • Christchurch. Deciduous trees. Providing an English image.



What are the images? Seaside promenades under subtropical trees. An English garden city.  Subtropical shopping paradise. That’s what the photographs show when visitors, locals and the publicity machine take photographs of these areas to show their friends or use them in various promotions.

Wellington is well known as a wet and windy city yet parts of it conjure up an image quite differently.

Invercargill is an interesting case study where the image, whether by accident or design, has been enhanced by the planting of the indigenous cabbage trees. In reality Invercargill is the coldest city in New Zealand being regularly pounded by southern winds straight off Antarctica.

Napier  while  being on the coast does not have a sandy sun drenched beach it is stoney and swimming is not  recommended at all.

In all cases an image has been built up based on tree selection.  Using this basis it is suggested there is merit for local authorities to determine a policy on the choice of trees that are planted that will modify, and over time, change the image of an area. The local council is the coordinating body for city planning and development and can provide a lead in this area.  It also controls and manages all the public open space on which it generally plants trees as part of the development and in this situation the council has sole control over this area of land.

As a planning authority it can promote a range of trees as being desirable, reliable growers, that would enhance the image.  Private landowners would be able to seek advice about trees. The council or other planning organisations may provide for free specific trees that promote this image.

Well planned and executed this policy could reduce the time frame to change the image. The choice of trees that grow faster, or are bulkier or have distinctive features that create the image is the key to this. For example the Norfolk Island pine is rapid growing providing evergreen foliage with a ‘tropical’ shape.  It is known to come from a warm and pleasant climate and is often used to create this subtropical image.

Another example is the use of hardy, fast growing palms that will withstand severe frosts. Palms are normally recognised as growing in warm tropical climates. Even the native Nikau palm is quite hardy.

City parks and gardens vary in age from 150 years to recently developed and have a variety of trees in them. A planned approach to tree planting for image purposes will be successful. Shrub plantings and landscaping tends to have a shelf life of 20 – 25 years yet more planning tends to go into this than the choice trees. Trees with a longer life span often outlive these landscape areas and because they are “good specimens” are often built around when the landscape is renewed.  They have become a landscape element that needs to be preserved and enhanced.

There is a need for councils to consider the type of trees that are selected and planted. It is this selection and planting process that can have a major effect on a city – it can effect the “city image”.

Similarly tourism development agencies, NTO’s and RTO’s can identify and enhance their countries or regions by adopting a tree planting and preservation policy that safeguards and improves the image created by trees.


Norfolk Island Pine
This tree has a subtropical look and feel about it and git grows well in mid temperate climates

1 comment:

jeansgarden said...

Alan, This is very interesting. I hadn't thought about the use of specific types of trees to evoke a certain image -- but as soon as you say it, I can see how it would work. Very thought provoking. -Jean