This post originally appeared in June 2012.

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. Yes more trees but not Plane trees, bad for health with hairs on leaves. In hot weather they produce isoprene from leaves as a coping mechanism. This mixes with Nitrogen Dioxide from car exhausts and forms locallised ozone peaking early afternoon. Localised ozone will damage lungs and lead to health problems. Please plant more trees but not high isoprene producing hairy leafed trees.

  2. Looking out at the New Lynn valley, there are still acres of trees along all the feeder/surrounding routes – except for the town centre itself. That ugly strip of Placemakers/Mitre 10 could really, really do with a few hundred trees.

    1. Quite. When did we lose the skill of building main roads in urban places as properly resolved avenues or boulevards?

      Lincoln Road I’m looking at you.

      1. I fear I know how this happened. Under Austroads road design rules, there used to be “clear zones” required from the edge of traffic lanes for reducing (car) safety crash risk. The distances were 3m, 6m, and 9m for speed limits of 60kph, 80kph and 100kph. The distances really were based on analysis of crash causes in the 1980s. Hitting a tree with trunk diametr > 300mm has caused many fatalities. The fixed distances have been replaced by a “risk assessment” method, which is still weighted towards cars.

        However obviously the hazard is far less at 60kph due to lower crash energy, and these days we have far safer cars with crumple zones and air bags. So where the tree is in a 50 or 60 kph zone and behind kerb and channel this rules should now be replaced by a rule that it is OK as long as the tree is at least 1 metre back from the kerbface (to avoid risks to peds from suddenly appearing from behind a tree and drivers not seeing them).

        1. Thanks. Of course the tree provides protection for pedestrians, and we’ve already been reading here about how pedestrian safety is something the traffic engineers aren’t researching enough. It makes an interesting situation where communities are calling for lower speed limits. Ponsonby Rd is at 40 km/hr, that’s what we’re wanting on Pt Chev Rd too.

        2. Yes true. And we know that crash energy goes up (and down) proportional to soeed squared. So once we get down to 40 and 50 kph streets, these rules should have no place now.

        3. Cool yeah, so by those figures the distance would be 0m at 40km/h.

          So should be no problems with trees in the berm at 50km/h.

        4. Nick
          The only exception I would make to that is for the sake of the safety of the pedestrian. There should be a slight (1 metre) setback from a tree to a kerbline to ensure that the pedestrian does not step straight from behind a tree to in front of a car. But that is all.

        5. Look at the new designs though. Lucky to get a 1m setback! Trees are lucky to get any unpaved soil around them – apparently their roots can go “under the road” and “under the footpath”. Until the tree dies, I suppose.

        6. Why do we prioritise a *possible* harm to a human over a *definite* harm to a tree? More anthropocentric nonsense. Plant trees, and if people crash into them and die, so be it.

        7. For a high speed arterial/rural road, then yes if a tree is too close to the road and is a hazard it would make sense to remove the tree.

          For a low speed urban environment, if a speed limit of 50-60km/h is dangerous because of all the trees, then instead of removing all the trees why not lower the speed limit to 30-40?

        8. +1, the tree can also increase perceived risk to the motorist. This will cause then to slow down, reducing actual risk to other road users. In areas with high numbers of non-motorised traffic this will contribute to a net reduction in risk.

  3. Sad about Jervois Road, and wouldn’t it be nice to see a similar avenue of trees down Dominion Road when the LRT is built. As you probably know, tree planting is a standard feature of new French tramways, to hide the poles and beautify the neighborhood. It also increases the likelihood that people will walk to the tram and catch it.

    But as someone who gets a lot of hay fever, Ken is right, please not London Plane trees! The alergy downside of these is well documented. Besides, there ar so many more interesting and beautiful alteernatives. In Nice in 2015 they actually gave people an online vote over what kind of trees they wanted planted along their new tramway corridor. There were several attractive options, and none of them were Plane trees. See

    1. I know that friends in Herne Bay were asked to vote on which sort of street trees they wanted, too. Unfortunately what we have here is Kanuka Box, an Australian tree, that is awful because it drops all the sharp little seed cases, meaning that the determinedly barefoot kids take longer to walk anywhere, and adopt a sort of dorky hopping style as their gait.

      1. I don’t know the type of tree planted in Morrin Rd (Stonefields / Glen Innes), east of the Auckland Netball Centre, but man – The seed cases from those have really nasty spines on them.

        This is a shame, because the trees are quite nice for small-medium size trees.

  4. The plane trees were removed because the trams were to be replaced by trolley buses (Herne bay was the first route converted) and the trolley bus overhead was towards each side of the road, not the middle like tram overhead, and retention of the trees was supposedly incompatible with the stringing of trolley bus wires. Of course, it may all well been just an excuse to get rid of the trees!

  5. I want to put a photo in a comment. Can anyone advise how to do that? (Have asked admin but people reading now might also know.)

    1. You can copy the weblink and paste it into the comment. Can’t add an image directly though, so it has to be on a website or online photo album first.

  6. “The treelessness of poorer neighbourhoods means you can tell the relative worth of areas from as far away as outer space.”

    From outer space, I was told, the two greenest places are the South Island and Ireland. But Ireland’s green is its grass, not its trees.

    Ireland has (or had when I lived there early 1990’s) the lowest coverage of trees in all of Europe, despite originally being a forest. People wanting to plant trees had to overcome huge public resistance. Apparently the love of the denuded look came from centuries of repression: the wealthy British landlords liked trees; they were a symbol that the owners didn’t have to cut them down for firewood. Everyone else was extremely poor and was burning peat for fuel, so they resented the trees they weren’t allowed to cut.

    I wonder how this background framed the attitudes towards trees of our Irish immigrants in the 1800 and 1900’s?

    1. Just reusing this excellent post and read your comment… Ireland used to be heavily forested, as was much of temperate Europe: mostly broadleaved deciduous trees. When the English invaded properly during Elizabeth I’s reign, using colonisation by settlement as well as by force, they stripped the countryside bare.

      Mostly the trees were burned for charcoal for iron foundries making cannon and other armaments (to fight the Spanish and French) but also other products to make loads of coin for themselves (including the famous Waterford crystal).

      The English crown also believed the trees harboured rebellious Irish, a fear shared by the English citizenry in Ireland especially the “planters” (rural estate-owning settlers, a bit like NZ’s rural settlers but used more overtly by the crown to establish control over the natives and effective dominion over the land). These folk too were consistently nervous of their servants and erstwhile neighbours rising up, so made fortified manor houses with their (class-signalling) private hunting forests often outside the manor gates.
      Ireland lost the lion’s share of her natural forest cover during the Elizabethan period. It’s super sad.

  7. A bit ironic that all the trees down Pt Chev Road will be removed as part of the planned cycle-lane design supported by this site.

    1. Support from this site was on the basis of the proposal AT showed. It included mature trees in all the pictures, which at the time, AT admitted it couldn’t actually find appropriate locations for. Most of the 1200 submissions won’t mention the trees, because their removal wasn’t made obvious. We await AT’s decision.

  8. What’s the point of a planting policy, if the existing trees are still being removed? Here is a picture of the biggest of the pohutukawa trees on Pt Chevalier Rd that are going to be removed:

    It is one of 12 that will be removed; 3 or 4 are a bit straggly due to not having been given a big enough root zone, and 7 or so are a good size, smaller than this one.

    The removal of these trees is for the planned cycleway along Pt Chevalier Rd. Transition Pt Chevalier has suggested two alternatives – 1/ cutting the traffic induced by the SH16 and other road building projects by blocking Meola Rd to the private car; 2/ turning the parallel streets into neighbourhood greenways for safer cycling, so the cycleway on Pt Chevalier Rd is not required.

    I look forward to seeing one of these alternatives being chosen by AT rather than the removal of the existing trees.

    1. I like option 2 and included something like this in my submission. Making the side street like what they have just done with Grosvenor St will be help to both cyclists and residents wanting to slow the through traffic.
      The removal of the trees was just one of issues I raised about AT’s design.

  9. Wow! Imagine how nice Jervois Rd would look now. My Grandparents lived on John St, and I remember walking along those wide asphalt footpaths to the shops. And crossing a busy Jervois Rd to get to Herne Bay, or my parents just trying to pull out onto Jervois Rd…. It would at the very least look less hostile.

  10. Off topic, but I caught the 5.51pm train from Sunnyvale tonight I got talking to the security guard. He is working until 2am, with no shelter, nowhere to sit, nothing to do, and on a cold, showery night in early winter. Is that acceptable in NZ in 2017? Why does he not have at least a small kiosk with a heater and a freaking radio or something?

  11. Do Melia trees cause any problems? We have a lovely avenue in my street in Sandringham – and a number of other streets around here. People will of course complain about the Autumn leaves…

    1. Melia trees would be low on my list. They drop material year round often in copious quantity. The have surface roots that penetrate some distance from the trunk. Whilst there is no perfect tree for roadsides I would go for a native first.

  12. NZ Herald 2 July 1938
    A view of Jervois Road, near the Curran Street corner, showing some of the plane trees which border the road from the Three Lamps to Wallace Street, Herne Bay. As the trees are regarded as a hazard to vehicular traffic, the City Council has decided to have them removed. ”

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