Street Trees: Totally Lame


Great story by Gregory Dicum over at the San Francisco Chronicle about the city’s street trees. It ain’t easy keeping an urban forest alive, because not every tree can "thrive on a diet of candy-bar wrappers and pit-bull poop," as Dicum puts it.

Street_tree It’s a tall order for a tree:  We’re gonna stick you in this little hole in the concrete, drop some Osmocote down there, strap you to a couple of burly stakes, plant some stupid little pansies around you, and then you’re on your own.  Good luck finding the water, microbes, humus, and worms you need down there under the streets.  Good luck fighting off pollution, vandalism, and inclement weather. And by the way, please don’t send your roots on a fishing expedition into our aging sewer and water system, and don’t push them up through the seams in the sidewalk in search of air.  And keep your branches out of the power lines.  And don’t drop your flowers, pollen, or fruit on parked cars.  And hey–don’t block the street signs or oncoming traffic.  Oh, and when the homeowner or business owner finds out that they’re responsible, in most cities, for the sidewalk, the trees planted in it, and any damage to underground pipes, pavement, etc?  Look out for the axe.

Are we asking too much of our trees?  Can’t a sidewalk just be a sidewalk?  Is it too old-fashioned to suggest that trees simply be planted in the ground? 

Discuss among yourselves.

Link: GREEN / If we’re so green, why is San Francisco’s treescape so lame?.


  1. This is definitely a good point — we have a street renovation project going on outside our office window that’s nearly complete. Earlier this week, they dropped in some trees. Everyone else in the office oohed and aahed about the lovely little trees, but honestly, I think they’re creepy.

    Why not just add up all the space that’s taken up by the little squares of dirt in the sidewalk, and add up that square footage and designate that much space somewhere else in the city for a real, live park?


  2. I think it’s sad to do that to trees. It’s even more bizarre to sprinkle them around parking lots in islands of mulch.

    In my old neighborhood there were trees planted in squares in the brick sidewalk that flowered and had berries, and the birds loved them, although they really made a mess everywhere. These trees were relatively short anyway, so at least they fit in and had some purpose, but trees in parking lots just look lonely to me, no matter how many of them there are. They always seem to be the same stage — gawky teenagers after a growth spurt.

  3. It’s a tough life for a city tree. The worst thing is when they put those little wrought iron cages around the tree trunks. Are they trying to keep them from atempting to escape?

  4. We need those trees for shade. Anywhere there is asphalt and then humans, there ought to be a buffer of trees in between.

  5. If we need a buffer between us and asphalt or concrete, then maybe there’s just way too much of it to begin with. Or maybe we need to use something other than living trees for shade.

    Can we extend this rant to include ANY curbside tree, by the way? The ones in my older suburb are always similarly pathetic, with their trunks just as wide as the hellstrip–er, “tree lawn.” And do you know that there are businesses who specialize in lifting sidewalk sections, cutting the tree’s roots, and then putting the sidewalk back down again?!

    Wouldn’t it be much more fun to xeriscape these necessary evils than to plan outsized trees in them?

  6. I laughed out loud — candy bar wrappers and pit bull poop. A classic quote I will be repeating…how to incorporate it into conversation will take some doing.

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