Seeing Seattle (vi): real trees in the downtown

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I was really struck by how green Seattle is. Not just green-grass green, but how respectful it was of large-scale green plants. The picture above is not a typical street. Much of Seattle has been yielded over to the almightly motorists who seem to have a real hate-on for trees. But there were quite a few neighbourhoods and areas of the downtown with lots of trees.

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Imagine Sussex Drive or the Market with trees of this size. Trees do grow just fine in cities, not that one could guess that in Ottawa, but they require decent size planting beds, some care, etc.

I was once advised that Ottawa requires 3 cu metres of soil for a new tree; Toronto requires 11. Guess who’s trees thrive and who’s last an average of 7 years before they are dead?

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I noticed significant sized trees with large canopies, even on streets with overhead trolley wiring. That’s a decent sidewalk too.  Ottawa planners always tell me we can’t have those here because our street rights of way are so small. I always respond it’s a matter of priorities: you could have those wide sidewalks and trees (even if just on one side of the street) if we removed that row of parking or one lane of car traffic. Quelle horreur or something!

If you haven’t seen the proposed redesign of Queen Street for the post-LRT age, when additional  thousands of pedestrians will be using the street to access the stations, don’t worry. It doesn’t look much different from today, except with smoother asphalt. The wider sidewalks were eaten up by turning lanes, parking bays, taxi stands, delivery zones, hotel drop offs, etc.

At a recent planning meeting here in Ottawa, developing a new people-oriented facility, they had Two foresters and Two landscape architects, plus the usual engineers, planners, minders, etc. Exactly as per the normal, the Architects and Foresters start out by cataloguing all the vegetation they are going to remove, for reasons of safety, health, growing zones, etc etc. In this case, it was about 1/3 of the existing trees had to go.  It was much much later before we could get to talk about what new saplings might be planted in leftover spaces. With studied avoidance of my question about the amount of soil being put under that tree.


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Whether on the outer edge of the right of way or a downtown median, there were trees:



In many neighbourhoods there were aggressive new tree tree installations. Note the lengthy soil trench, to let in air and water, the underplanting of shrubs, the closely planted trees. There was no space left beside the curb.




This pic below is of a recently rebuilt downtown arterial (think Lees Avenue type of thing) and notice the centre boulevard of trees, underplantings, and overall lushness. These landscaping elements were normal features of reconstruction. Any bets we will see this along Lees?




I was also astounded at how many private buildings put out floral displays. These baskets are strung along the side of an older, modest apartment building in an Elgin Street type of neighbourhood. The horizontal black cable is really a irrigation hose that waters those baskets. And no worries about them dripping onto pedestrians. Or falling onto them. Greenery like this was common.

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Rather more extraordinary was the greenery on this old building. I couldn’t see if was a rotting roof supporting greenery or a deliberate planted green roof. But it sure was nice:

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