Stuart Houghton’s 100 ideas for Auckland continues

3: Plane Tree Avenues

Day 3

Franklin Road, with its historic plane trees, is one of the most loved streets in Auckland. What if plane tree avenues defined all the major city fringe streets?

This could be interpreted more broadly, that a programme of street tree planting could be part of a wider programme of works to enhance these streets that play a key role for walking and cycling between the city centre and city fringe.

The post touched a nerve with some around natives versus exotic trees. This taps into some deep-rooted parts of the New Zealand psyche at this point in history. It would be great if we could find a way to have a mature and broad-based discussion about what all this might mean for planting trees in the highly modified urban environments of our cities.


Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay: photo credit Craig Flickr photostream (


Jervois Rd before the removal of both the trams and the London Planes in 1949. Photo: Graham Stewart

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  1. i love the idea but this should include a diversity of tree species – single species projects are vulnerable to diseases. American cities learnt that the hard way when the dutch elm disease decimated most of the trees of entire cities in the 60s-70s.

  2. Dutch elm disease devastated Auckland trees too. But there are a couple of wonderful survivors in Symonds Street, outside the Engineering School, and in Wellesley Street East next to Auckland Art Gallery/Toi o Taamaki. Platanus x acerifolia is one of the great survivor urban trees of all time being a cross of the American and oriental planes, so survivor is in its genes. It’s a great street tree and as climate change begins to impact here would be a considerable asset, particularly in the long, drought-ridden summers that are predicted for Auckland.

    1. Can’t remember where i read it (Walkable City perhaps) but a good idea is to alternate species by streets. That way not all streets are decimated.

        1. I don’t think I was descriptive enough. Say alternate species on N-S and E-W as an example.

        2. Good plan. Also yes to fruit tress and ornamentals like flowering Cherries as options. Tuis in particular love Cherry Trees, and blossom, leaf colour changes, deciduousness…. what’s not to like?

        3. Just like the ones they had in Queen Street until the Council decided they were no longer fashionable and replaced them with natives

        4. The Queen Street ones were hardly worth keeping, most were half dead from trucks hitting them.

        5. The only issue with fruit trees is they encourage vermin. Living Seville, the fragrant smell of (bitter) orange trees is something I loved the most.

  3. Please not plane trees…they are a sodding menace, rip up pavements, need constant attention. Fruit and natives.

    1. Yeah I have heard people at AT hate Franklin road they are constantly getting requests from residents to reseal it and fix the parking etc, but to maintain it to the same level as normal roads would require stupid amounts of money redoing it every year or 2. It does look great but it comes at a cost. On the plus side there are a couple of nice tree root formed bike jumps on the way down I make a habit of exploiting.

  4. Right, I’ll say it. New Zealand native trees are largely terrible for the urban environment. Pohutukawas are fine along the waterfront, and the odd spot around, but their roots make them largely unsuitable for large paved spaces. Plane trees for the win. Enough with cabbage trees and the like – Queen Street looks a shabby mess.

    1. Hmmm…. I don’t agree with this entirely. That is I think there are places where indigenous flora are perfect, like Nikau in shaded streets like O’Connell, or the Pohutukawa on the waterfront. And I am much persuaded by the arguments of Ngarimu Blair for instance that the absence of Natives is a huge loss for bird life and cultural memory, so we should, I believe, be returning these species where possible.

      However one characteristic of more recent additions is deciduousness. This is so great for city and street trees; shade when you need it and light when you need it. And the whole theatre of the changing cycle.

      And the London Plane makes a fantastic architecture for a street, as in the Jervois Rd shot above. Frankly I give a flying phaark about a bit paving getting wonky or some leaves to pick up in balance with the spectacular glory that is Franklin Rd’s Planes.

      1. “A bit paving getting wonky” is the cause of a lot of tripping accidents, which are very common and will get more common as we all walk more (desireably) and age (inevitably). Street trees are excellent, but they do need to be selected, planted and maintained with this in mind.

        1. Precisely – that’s why species selection is so important, and one reason why planes are routinely pollarded elsewhere, rather reducing their beauty and glory.

        2. No Mike we have to be consistent. If pedestrians are likely to trip, the answer is not to improve the environment they travel in to make it safer.

          The answer is to make all pedestrians wear safety equipment so that if they do trip they will (possibly) be unharmed. Luckily the Danish already have a product ready:

          And other cities and countries are moving towards this:

          I have an imaginary friend who was walking and tripped and hit his head. If he had been wearing one of these helmets he would have been unharmed. What about if a child tripped? This is a vital health issue in NZ.

          Luckily for the many drivers of cars who hurt their heads, the Australians have already developed motorist helmet which I can only assume will soon become mandatory:

          For some reason the vehicle industry is against this. I can’t think why.

        3. “I have an imaginary friend who was walking and tripped and hit his head. If he had been wearing one of these helmets he would have been unharmed”

          Crazy guy, that sort of thing is dangerous. Driving is what he should have been doing, that is what the environment in this city is designed for.

        4. Thank you for putting me right, goosoid – I wish I’d been in Vancouver on 2 April 2012!


    1. I have often thought about planting fruit trees along roads. Kill two birds with one stone if you will, green up the area and give away free (and easily accessible) fruit at a time when people complain about the costs of eating healthy. I stop however when I think about the letters to the editor of the Herald in a few years time about cars left on the side of the road getting covered in rotten feijoas and how the council should pay for all the affected cars to be cleaned.

    2. Full support for more trees, actually many streets in Auckland are so plain and boring so any green helps. But please consider with fruit trees that those need to get neutralized so the trees don’t carry fruit. I remember the street I was living in Europe before. We had a row of pear trees there and in autumn it was hard not to get hit by falling pears or sting by wasps. And when they start rottening it gets actually really dirty.

      1. The Waiheke Local Board secured $20,000 of funding and as a community we planted 250 fruit and but trees in Blackpool (a Waiheke suburb) people came and got them, planted them on the public land out the from of their house and pledged to take care of them. Training in maintenance and pruning will be provided through the local residents association with the lovely acronym BRA. Hopefully this will be rolled out across the island, and then you mainlanders can learn from us and do it in your area too!

        I wrote about it and put photos up on my blog, accessible by clicking my name above this comment.

        Community fruit trees for the win!

  5. Though I do like the idea of fruit trees – Barcelona smells amazing in spring time with the flowering of their orange trees. Our natives – ugly, dull, drab.

    1. hang on a second, they have a big centre median there, why not eliminate that and widen the footpath giving more breathing space to the tree roots instead? Crazy

        1. But according to the council this is one of Hamilton’s busiest CBD streets, like about 11,000 vpd. It must be four lanes. The council refers this as a Business District, not a Jane Jacobs type Down Town.

        2. The webpage says:

          “Over time, the growth of Mexican ash tree roots has caused of damage to some of our important assets on this section of Anglesea Street […] The Mexican ash trees which currently line the street will be removed, and replaced with Upright hornbeams, a species more appropriate for urban environments and which will be planted with a root guard so the current damage does not re-occur. ”

          While is is just on the other side of the CBD main-blocks it is about the equivalent of Nelson St in Auckland in niceness. However considering the geneal decline of the Hamilton CBD in recent years I’m not sure what would be good alternative options.

  6. More planes trees and more cherry trees please – along as many main roads as possible. Certainly put the trees back where they were ripped out from all those years ago. They create more footpath and road damage do they?…well, that’s an excellent natural car and cycle speed calming device!

    1. The whole Once-ler Family has been working full tilt for the Hamilton council
      One Friday in June the “Thneeds, super-Axe-hacker” visited Bader St and remove all the Cherry Blossom trees. Not one was left.

      1. You’ve GOT to be kidding me. Cutting down cherry trees is vandalism, because flowering cherries are amazing! Knobbly, odd-looking things, they suddenly burst into flower for just ten days or two weeks in spring. They bring amazing colour to a city, the more trees together the better.

        Most cities in Japan (as Rob Mayo would doubtless appreciate) have stands of them, the larger (longer) stands are tourist draws for festivals in spring, and also summer, when the leaves provide welcome shade. They really do bring life to a city.

        1. Though your nice Lorax reference brought a little sweetness to some bitter news… as a former Hamilton resident I can attest the city has much improving to do, and cutting down valuable trees is a backwards step.

        2. One recent ray of sunshine for The Tron is HamiltonUrbanBlog. I’ve just added them to the Links on the left, along with long standing Melbourne based The Urbanist, formerly The Melburbanist [a name I prefer]. Both worth checking out.

        3. Patrick, HUB is a great blog and I’m glad you’ve linked to it. With luck their discussion will get people thinking about urbanism and urban issues in a city sadly lacking it…

  7. What you don’t do is plant roadside trees and then decide to widen the road. (Palmerston North is good for this). Plant Kauri trees in a narrow centre divide – (In Glenfield Rd – Has anyone in the council have any idea how big Kauri trees grow.
    If you want to attract Tuis plant Banksia trees. See them and the birds outside Waiwera Thermal Pools. Also Bottlebrush trees attract birds and are very colourful. See them in Witheford Drive, Manuka Heights, Glenfield.

    1. Tuis also love wattles and wood pigeons hang upside down in my virgilia. They planted wattles on Tiritiri Matagi to get the birds re-established then cut them out when the natives got big enough but have to supplement with feeders. Just because they are native doesn’t mean birds only like native trees.

    2. Perhaps the council hope that by the time the kauri grow big enough to be a nuisance it is unlikely we will have any cars on the road at all

  8. Trees also slow traffic down, because they are people-calming devices.

    On high-speed roads they’ve been removed as they’re a hazard to traffic when it leaves the road, but on local roads they’re excellent at enhancing space and encouraging responsible road use.

    1. They do. Vertical elements close to the road edge narrows a drivers perspective and makes the whole road feel narrower so they slow down. One of the reasons for the tall signs on either side close to the road edge as you enter small towns is to mimic nature and help reduce speed.

  9. There is a considerable maintenance cost to the trees and we need to be aware of that in our choices. At present in Papakura we have two areas where I have been requesting that the tree’s which are crowding the footpath be pruned/maintained for the benefit of pedestrians has had no reaction yet there are new trees being planted in the area. While I applaud the new planting we need to maintain those that are there. If they are left unattended for too long they will become unbalanced and an eyesore. If deciduous trees are used then the autumn cleaning needs to be affective as well so that storm water systems do not become blocked and cause more road damage.

    1. Since trees are one of our only assets to appreciate in value as they age (and give us more leaves, oxygen & environmental services), some legitimate bankster magickery would allow one to release the trees’ annual appreciation to fund the extra maintenance budget that the pavements would need. Sign me up for some tree futures.

  10. This is true, the London Plane (I think) trees on Upper Queen St are the only thing that makes the six lane stroad palatable as a place to live, but all it takes is a couple days leaves to build up before a hefty downpour and the whole street is flooded.

    Also the roots on each have grown up to the point where the tree pit box takes up 2/3 of the footpath width, which is an issue for such a heavily foot trafficked street. The only solution I can see is to raise the footpath level about six inches with a hefty crown. Do the recent installations on the he shared spaces have some new technique for managing root growth?

    Has anywhere been successful with combining deciduous and evergreens on the same street?

  11. Plane trees were the ‘go to’ for LA’s due to their form, deciduous nature providing sun in winter and shade in summer and relatively fast growth. There was a strong turn against them some time ago as many believe they cause respiratory allergies. A quick net search can reveal community groups dedicated to preventing their installation. Most local government policy has a strong focus on native plant selection to promote healthy ecosystems these days. It’s hard to beat Plane trees for avenue formation with Franklin Road being a fine example.

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