Tuesday, August 26, 2008

City attractiveness

City attractiveness or how to change the image of a city by selecting the right tree.

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.

Trees are essential elements in the landscape whether natural or man made. As essential elements they may be native (indigenous) or introduced. Native trees are well adapted for the climate in New Zealand and 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 publicity machine take photographs of these areas and show their friends or use them in various promotions.

In reality Wellington is 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 design or accident, 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.

In all cases an image has been built up based on tree selection. Using this basis it is suggested there is merit for Councils to determining 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. 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 tree. Council or other planning organisations may give away specific trees that promote this image.

Done well the time frame to change the image could be reduced. 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 Norfolk Island pines are rapid growers 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 one year and have a variety of trees in them. Landscaping tends to have a shelf life of 20 – 25 years especially hard construction which also deteriorates in that time (Cathedral Square, Christchurch).

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”.

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