I was disturbed to read the article about removing the street trees on W. Broad St. in Pawcatuck (Westerly Sun, Feb. 14, 2019). Understandably, merchanats are concerned that their signs are being obscured by the trees or security camera sight-lines blocked, and officials cite building access in case of fire, but there are other important considerations that should be taken into account.
If economic development is a goal, the comfort of shoppers must be a priority, too. Trees provide shelter and a sense of enclosure for pedestrians. On a hot day, the temperature differential can be 5 to 15 degrees lower when walking under the canopy. Studies have shown that shops on treescaped streets do 12 percent better than those on bare streets. In addition, trees near the street absorb nine times more pollutants, converting harmful gases back into oxygen, so these sidewalks become healthier places to walk.
“Walkability” is an important measure of a downtown’s success, and trees are one component of the score. Do you want people dashing across hot or rain drenched sidewalks to get from their car to your door, or do you want people strolling, shopping and enjoying a spontaneous meeting with friends?
Conflicting goals might be resolved by trimming branches that block signs or security camera sight-lines. Replacing some trees with trees that have a higher canopy might also be considered. Finally, for a more complete treatment of this subject, please refer to a readily available online booklet, “Urban Street Trees, 22 Benefits, Specific Applications,” before taking a stand on this important issue.
Many of the world’s great cities have streets lined with trees. As we strive to improve our downtown, let’s aspire to greatness, while we do our part in mitigating the harmful effects of pollution.