Jervois Rd: Trees and Tram

Now I’m sure many of you will assume that this post is going to be about the old thing on rails in the middle of this picture but that isn’t what interests me the most about this beautifully framed shot – I just love the separation of the dark shaded foliage on the left from the brightly lit trees on the other side by that narrow stream of sky. A good lesson on why it often helps photographers to think in black and white, at least when learning. But I digress. No what I see more than anything else here are trees.

Beautiful orderly trees. Two lines of that most perfect of city street tree; the London Plane. So not just some greenery but really a whole architecture of planting; dominating and defining the streetscape. We are lucky enough to still have a few of these streets in Auckland, like Hakanoa St in Grey Lynn below.

Hakanoa St, Grey Lynn

I am not sure exactly when the Jervois Rd Planes were planted or even precisely when they were destroyed, but basically they went with the trams, not that you need one to have the other, but to resist the claims that the car will make to all road width it certainly helps to have an effective and less space hungry system of movement to leave room for such splendour.

I am fully aware of why we don’t have trams on Jervois Rd anymore; they were removed in order to not get in the way of the cars, and to not compete with them. But were the trees also removed to allow more road space for these things? It seems likely, traffic lanes do go out to the full width at the intersections and at mid block where there are only [!] four traffic lanes the excess is occupied by parking and the painted median.

Or was it a Council cost saving measure?, you know- no leaves to pick up, or something about overhead wires?, but then they seemed to co-exist with trams that used overhead wires. Or did the locals want them gone? A bit hard to believe- shade in summer and sun in winter, a lovely buffer to the traffic….And of course we all know that a leafy neighbourhood commands higher property values. Checkout this on the Economics of Urban Trees from Atlantic Cities.

In a 2010 paper in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, Donovan and Butry found that a tree in front of a Portland property added more than $7,000 [PDF] to its sale price. Earlier this year another team of economists reported that walkability, in the form of nearby businesses, raises a Portland home’s value by about $3,500 in a treeless neighborhood, but more than $22,000 [PDF] in a tree-lined one.

I know there has been a community led campaign to return Plane trees to Jervois and Ponsonby Rd [Ponsonby Rd was the same- Planes all the way along it] and this is great but they are rather sporadic, having as they do to fit around now dominant road infrastructure, nothing like the glory of the evenly spaced and carefully maintained beauties above. There is a real lesson in this picture with both the tram and the trees; once you lose an amenity in a city it is very hard to get it back. And if you look at the picture above clearly you will see that the trees were not on the footpath, as the new ones are, but between the traffic and pedestrian space, like they still are in Franklin Rd.

And what is very hard to understand is why the trees had to go to all, there are parking spaces between them, much nicer to park in the shade. Was it fears about safety; a driver might not see someone or some vehicle coming out from behind a tree? If so yet another reason to bemoan the effects of the auto-age and its total domination by the perceived need of the car. Whatever the reason the traffic engineers have taken full advantage and hogged the whole width once the trees went.

Because there is a lot we know about the great benefits of trees on a place and its society. Take this post from Grist which investigates the relationship between tree planting and crime reduction in the home The Wire- Baltimore:

According to the study, a 10 percent increase in trees roughly equaled a 12 percent decrease in crime.

Which then brings us to really interesting idea: Could a programme of transformation of our streetscapes through planting both increase the value of neighbourhood properties; their walkability, their economic performance, and even reduce crime?  Trees, along with high quality public transit are probably the best two tools in the battle to regain higher quality of place in our cities where it has been sacrificed in the rush to speed the movement and storage of vehicles.

Again from Grist here is a startling observation: The treelessness of poorer neighbourhoods means you can tell the relative worth of areas from as far away as outer space.

 De Chant has collected images from four U.S. cities and two international cities, and in every one, the wealthier areas are conspicuously more leafy.

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  1. The caption that accompanies the Jervois Rd photo in Graham Stewart’s “Around Auckland by Tram in the 1950’s” reads:

    The 105 Plane trees that lined Jervois Rd on both sides between Ponsonby Rd and Wallace St were removed for the first suburban trolley bus service which started in September 1949. It had been suggested that only 48 trees needed to be removed for six bus stops, the remainder to be just trimmed back – sadly all the trees were felled.

  2. Beautiful shots.

    So glad you’d already found the “trees from space article”- the comments are fun too.

    And yes, Cam nailed it. Miscommunication.

    Patrick- and anyone else who wants- will you come to a Western Bays Group meet and talk up reinstalling the trees (and trams if you want) on Pons and Jervois Rds? The local board has asked us to do a plan, and the options Council officers/AT are keen on are not as good as yours…

  3. This will come as a surprise to people who live outside of Auckland but Auckland does have plenty (but never enough) trees.
    Here is an example of a plain-tree-lined street right almost in the middle of the CBD

    1. Yes both Greys Ave and Vincent Street are gorgeous streets.

      For some reason I’ve just about never found any other street tree to be as effective as the London Plane trees. There are actually some pretty large trees along Hobson and Nelson streets, but you’d never know it – they just don’t have the presence for some reason.

      New planning rule: every street must be planted up with London Plane trees!

      1. Grey’s Ave is great to walk down, not up though! Just don’t look at the buildings though, the trees are far nicer to look at than a lot of the architecture there.

        Regarding native trees, I think they are best away from houses and better for open public spaces. Their big disadvantage is that natives are evergreen, so they block sun all year round, then people decide to plant a native forest on their section. The next home owner will probably have no access to winter sunlight and it could affect the neighbours too.

  4. Plane trees are not quite the perfect urban tree. Last (northern) summer I was in London and the seed cases/dust coming off the trees was almost unbearable. There were huge drifts of sharp yellow dusty spiky bits blowing around in the street. I bought a ski-mask so I could cycle but I constantly had red eyes and a headache. I love a good tree and think planes often look fantastic but this was killer…

  5. Funny the Council has spent so much effort protecting heritage trees on private property, meanwhile the public realm has been given a manscape.

  6. this is something I often reflect on. in fact, I took a photo of Greys AVe the other day because i was planning to do a blog post about what a difference trees make. Patrick I think one of the reasons why there are no big trees on many of our regional arterials is that our own planning laws prohibit it. I read a blog post about this a long time ago: For safety reasons, you can’t plant a tree that grows above a certain diameter on any road where people might be expected to frequently drive above 60 km/hour in case they skid out into the tree. Or something insane like that.. I can’t find the blog post so have no idea if this rule actually did exist or is still in action.

    1. Yep, street trees are listed under ‘hazardous obstacles to be eliminated’ in the traffic engineers handbook, they have certain limits on how close they can be to which roads etc.

      I think the solution to trees being an dangerous obstacle for fast moving traffic is simple. Slow down the design speed of the road by narrowing it… and use the extra space at the edges to plant trees 🙂

      1. Boom! Exactly

        Great find Nick, this and other recently uncovered regs are proof of the upsidedown world we are being enforced to inhabit.

        The car is a great and useful invention but have we gone too far in submitting entirely to its needs and not adapting it to ours?

        1. I was being a little metaphorical there Patrick, but the Austroads design manual does indeed specify at great length the requirements “Determine the Clear Zone” under the section: “DESIGN TO MITIGATE HAZARDS”.

          The fact that it calls it “the” clear zone with the definitive article suggests not having a clear zone along either side of your road isn’t an option.

    2. Lucy, that would explain why we get tiny natives on every new street, exclusively. Nothing majestic, nothing to change the streetscape or soak up the toxic fumes cars create.

      1. George I think we’ve found the culprits; manual writing traffic engineers.

        Silly man; what you thought was a life enhancing object of natural glory is in fact a ‘ hazardous object to be eliminated’, get with the programme; the city is for the swift movement of vehicles there’s no place for your fancy arty human feelings now. Whatever next? I suppose you’ll be demanding breathable air as well.

  7. This regulation is a really interesting example of how our values work. That we would put the safety of one person in a car who might slide into a tree while going too fast above the pleasure of hundreds and hundreds of pedestrians who use that street, the residents who live on it, the motorists who drive up and down it at a safe speed etc is just mind blowing.

    The other reason I can think of why they might not want to plant big trees next to roads is because they tear up the footpaths and, in some places, I know they have caused big problems in Auckland by getting into water pipes and so on. What we need are big beautiful trees with relatively small root systems…

    1. I would be very wary of proposing Detroit as a model for what to do with your city…. Personally i don’t think there is a problem with having the port where it is, though how big we want it is an issue. No need to move it when there is already Tauranga and Marsden ready to increase business.

      But we certainly could do with a more rational ports policy- one that gives up on this ideologically driven idea that competition between AK, Marsden, and Tauranga is the only possible or the best way to order imports and exports in the upper North Island. a system that seems to be designed for the shipping companies’ benefit and not particularly what is in the best interest of the nation.

      More effort could go into the best modes for goods to and from the ports too, again one that considers the full costs to society not just the lowest immediate financial ones; we subsidise trucking and pretend this has no other externalities but refuse to do the same for rail or coastal shipping- why?

      1. I lived in south-east Michigan for 5 years so I’m fully aware of the issues with Detroit, including travelling across 8 Mile etc. My focus was on the port’s location. The main port of Singapore (where I’m from) is also located in the CBD for historical reasons, and the plan is to shift it to the west over the next 5-10 years to provide more space for housing/recreation/etc, similar to what Detroit’s done. I agree with Patrick’s point about the unspoken externalities represented by having Auckland’s port in the CBD. Maybe one way to raise awareness of the “silent” support for trucks/cars/private vehicles in the regulatory environment (codes, subsidies, etc) is to point to their consequences- like having a port in the middle of the city and treeless avenues.

  8. The main reason for not planting or retaining plane trees is because they interfere with power lines unless they get copiced every year, at the ratepayers expense.

    1. Poor ratepayers; the same ones who benefit from the higher property values from tree-lined streets?

    2. Is “copicing” cutting them into that bizarre Y shape?

      Burying the power lines (away from the roots) would sort that.

      And the cost to the ratepayers (all of them) is so far less than the increase in rates people in these streets pay.

      Planing every street would likely make the Council very rich.

      We could buy that CRL we need!

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