Street tree plantings values

What is the contribution of visual esthetics in the development of sustainable treescapes? THEME 3  – IMAGINING FUTURE LANDSCAPES

Abstract, Landscape Furtures, UNISCAPE Conference 2017 

Key words: Urban Environment, Visual Features, Esthetics, Street Trees, Planting Design.

It is now well documented that interacting with natural environments affect us positively more that we may be aware of. Activities such as walking in a park, gardening, or viewing images of nature, have sensitive psychological and physical health benefits. In the XXI century where more than the average world population lives in cities, heath studies results combined with research in urban forestry generate an increasing awareness on the role of street trees in the built environment. These are especially subjects of attention for the multiple functions they perform in townscapes. As formulated here by the Trees and Design action group: “Trees make places work, look and feel better. Consider for example stormwater management, urban cooling, air quality improvement, and the visual amenity of seasonal colourful displays: no single man-made asset will match what a mature tree can deliver”.

But while ecological services or economic impacts of urban greenings are carefully quantified and getting considered in planning and policy-making, this contribution discusses the little concern about the aesthetics of urban treescapes in northern Europe. Examples of old and new urban projects in Denmark witness a relatively uniform and conservative approach to urban plantings design, despite growing scientific inputs on how and why to expand the potential of plantings in the urban environments.

In fact, concrete knowledge exists about which aesthetical aspects in nature improves human well-being and several of them even seem to correlates with vegetation ecology features which are defined as beneficial for biodiversity. For instance, visual features such as a high proportion of curved and fragmented edges, less average hues, more contrasts and more variation in saturation of colours, starts to be quantified, since their effect may also participate in the improvement of human cognitive performances. These features are relatively easy to qualify and appear as a clear incitement to implement more complexity and more chaotic patterns in the design of our future streetscapes. It seems in accordance with the high plant species diversity and the structural variations which are recommended to optimize multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity, or the resilience of urban forests.

With examples from recent projects in France, this explorative study shows that more research is needed to investigate the role of visual aesthetics in the context of emergent urban nature politics in order to support more qualitative tree strategies. The setup of this pilot study could serve as a format for comprehensive research in how landscape architecture can contribute to the improvement of urban environment for both humans and biodiveristy by focusing on identified visual features combined with the ecological performances of urban trees.

See the conference’s book of abstracts here.