One of the things I miss most about Vancouver is the street trees. Most parts of Vancouver, especially the side streets where you cycle have beautiful arching trees across them. Now Calgary will never match Vancouver for greenness and shouldn’t even try. It’s hard to compare a place where anything can grow and it feels like a forest to a place where gardeners like my mother spend their time frustrated and wondering why the fates are so unkind.
However, there is some control that we do have over the extent of street trees in our city. It’s a basic policy issue. I’ve been complaining about the lack of street trees in my area to family and friends for years. Even before I got into urban design I knew it was an issue. For a place that is oppressively hot at least two months a year — today was one of those days where you question whether it’s worth going outside — this city lacks shade. Downtown has a severe shortage of lovely shade giving trees. I met up with a friend for lunch and found a blanket of concrete and aggressive direct midday sunlight. We stayed inside to avoid sunburns and sweating. So few sidewalks are outfitted with trees and there are so many places where they could easily be added. Out main streets rarely have them.
When I got to Kenzington I noticed how nice it was to walk amidst the shade of the trees. Such a relief. Driving along the stretch of Northmount Drive near Northland Mall and the Nose Hill Library has always been a wonderful experience. The trees arch over giving shade and making it feel like a cozy space.
So here’s my suggestion for the City of Calgary: plant a bunch of street trees. Make it a priority. When you repave a street or redo a section of sidewalk plant some trees.
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg set out to plant 1 million trees. Nenshi should do the same. Our city is big enough and has enough streets that are missing street trees that we could probably use 2 million.
The area that I lived in in Vancouver was originally in South Van before the three cities amalgamated to create the City of Vancouver. South Van wasn’t very into paving roads or making sidewalks. Many of the sidewalks in the area have date stamps from the years immediately after amalgamation. The shape of those roads and the fact that most of them included space for street trees continues to influence the lives of people today. It made my life happier and better. It made my community a more pleasant place to live. Street trees don’t grow over night. It takes years (especially in the prairies) to see the benefit. Politicians who plant trees do it for the next twenty and fifty years not the next four.