Old Elm Tree on Boston Common as an example of street trees

Old elm tree on Boston Common (~1860), Photograph by John B. Heywood, New York Library, Public Domain

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Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable and The Kresge Foundation.

Cities@Tufts Lectures explores the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice.

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Below is the audio, video, and full transcript from a presentation delivered on March 31 2021, “A Garden in the Street: The Introduction of Street Trees in Boston and New York” with Anne Beamish. Learn more about her work by visiting: apdesign.k-state.edu/about/faculty-staff/beamish/


Watch the Video>>


Julian Agyeman: Hello and welcome to Cities@Tufts. This is our Wednesday colloquium, and we’re proud to be here with our partners Shareable and the Kresge Foundation. I’m Professor Julian Agyeman and together with my research assistants Meghan Tenhoff and Perri Sheinbaum, we organize Cities@Tufts as a cross-disciplinary academic initiative which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning, and sustainability issues. We are delighted today to welcome Dr. Anne Beamish to be our Wednesday speaker. She’s a visiting professor at UEPP (Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning) and she’s associate professor and graduate coordinator in landscape architecture and regional community planning at Kansas State University.

Her research and teaching focused on how public spaces invented or reimagined, and the innovative ideas, technologies and policies that have transformed the urban landscape, in particular streets, sidewalks and parks. I have to say, I was speaking to Anne beforehand, and I really admire somebody who focuses in on discrete things. I tend to think in big conceptual swathes and maybe get down to some detail, but I’m really excited by this. And her today is “A Garden in the Streets: The Introduction of Street Trees in Boston and New York.” Anne, a Zoom-tastic welcome to the Cities@Tufts Colloquium. Anne will speak for about 30, 35 minutes, and then, of course, we’ll open up for questions. And just a reminder, next Wednesday, April 7th, Professor Sheila Foster from Georgetown will discuss her forthcoming book, “Co-Cities.” Anne, over to you.

The controversial history of ‘street trees’ in Boston and NYC (Lecture)

Anne Beamish: Hi, everyone. Julian, thank you very much. And thank you for the introduction and the invitation to be here. It’s a pleasure. I hope everyone is doing well. I wish I could be there in person, but obviously that’s not possible. So thank you very much. And I just wanted to say, as a visiting scholar to UEPP, it’s been absolutely wonderful because it has given me access to one of the very few historical newspaper databases at Tisch library. So thank you so much for that this really has made this all possible. So what I’d like to talk to today is about trees — street trees in particular. Something that’s absolutely ubiquitous today, but it wasn’t always so. So I want to start with some background of where trees were in cities in 17th and 18th century, then talk about some of the green spaces in both New York and Boston and some special trees in Boston’s history, and then my central argument about the three forces that I’ve discovered that came together to create the environment that allowed street trees to happen.

So for a very, very long time, municipalities had really good reasons to not to plant trees in the street. They tore up the pavement, the trees and the limbs clogged up an already inadequate drainage system, they were considered fire hazards, things fell on people, they obstructed traffic. There was just a lot of things wrong with street trees. And in New England, trees were lumped together with obstructions and they were intentionally kept clear. So the idea of a tree in the street really seemed very ridiculous. James Stewart wrote this very scornful comment in 1771 and he said, “A garden in the street is not less absurd than a street in a garden.” And his take was anybody who planted a row of trees in front of their house just portrayed themselves as having terrible, terrible poor taste.

So both in New York and Boston, they had access to trees. Boston peninsula, originally pretty treeless countryside, was not far away. It didn’t take long. You could walk down the neck onto the mainland. You could take a boat over Charlestown or Cambridge or one of the islands where trees were. And this image is from Beacon Hill, looking across the common to the hills in the distance, and you could see trees there. New York, same thing. The countryside was really quite close to the city, 10, 15 minutes, and you could be outside out of the town. And again, here’s another image showing the city, the town at the time, in the distance. And you can see just not very far.

So the point is that 18th century New Yorkers and Bostonians weren’t exactly deprived of trees. And once the two towns were established, both of them had trees in town. They were even considered fairly green and bucolic towns. Homeowners would have fruit trees and nut trees, but in their garden, they weren’t in the street. And you can see this map from 1728. Absolutely, there were trees, but again, not in the street. New York, same situation, there is a zoomed in view. Houses — people had gardens, they had trees. So again, they had trees, there was nearby in the countryside, but they had their own productive trees in the yards, but again, just not in the street.

Both Bostonians and New Yorkers were very aware of the role that trees were beginning to play with walking and socializing in 18th century London. Warfield’s, which had been a common and was sort of this nasty utilitarian space, it was gradually transformed by planting trees in allays that people could walk. And so people in Boston and New York, all the East Coast, knew what was happening. The Mall in St. James Park in London was very famous. It was really well known. And at this time both Bostonians and New Yorkers were British subjects, so a lot of them came from the London area, they had family there, they still visited, they heard. London newspapers were reprinted all the time in both New York and Boston. So people knew about this mall. And it was a really important place in the city that the well-to-do, mainly, could stroll and promenade and socialize.

That idea of the mall actually came from Paris, it was originally a Parisian idea. And they built these malls to play a game called Pall Mall. And it was a little bit like croquet, as it were. And as you can see in this image here, it was just a parallel row of trees, and that’s where this game was played. In addition, when the game started to become unpopular, people still used those rows of trees to walk down. In the late 1600s, very early, 1700s, Paris started converting their defensive wall into a promenade and they decided to build one of the first boulevards. So we have four rows of of elm, in the middle was for carriages, and the two outside ones were for pedestrians. So this idea of planting two or more rows of trees for the purpose of walking and socializing — promenading — was an incredible innovation and it just completely caught the imagination of people in cities everywhere. It certainly caught on in America.

In 1725, a fellow called Jonathan Williams planted a row of trees on the common and he presented them to the town and the selectmen thanked him for this row of trees. So again, these are some of the first public trees. I mean, again, both cities had trees, but not I would call public trees, trees out in public places. So the selectmen thanked Jonathan Williams for that row. Nine years later, a second row was built and the town had its own mall. This was a row made up of elms mostly, sycamores in the north, and poplars were in the south. And if you zoom in on the map, you could actually see they called it a mall. This was very intentional. They knew exactly what they were creating and exactly what they were doing.

So these two rows of trees were incredibly important to the social life of the city. This was the go-to place. Visitors always went and visited the mall. And this was a description in Bennett’s history of New England, this is a visitor who said, “For their domestic amusement, every afternoon after drinking tea, the gentleman the ladies walk the mall. And afterward they would adjourn to each other’s houses to spend the evening.” And it goes on to say that this mall was made up of two rows of young trees planted opposite of each other with a five-foot wave between, an imitation of St James Park. So this was absolutely intentional. They knew what they were doing and they designed and built this mall in imitation of what was in London.

So in this image of the common, you can see in the foreground, the mall, and in the background here, this is Thomas Hancock’s house, this is where the state house is now. Thomas Hancock was the uncle of John Hancock, founding father John Hancock, and he asked the selectmen if you could plant some lime trees, or lindens, they called the lime trees, but they’re linden trees, in front of his house to beautify the common. And he was given permission. Some years later, his neighbor, John Singleton Copley, the artist, he also asked for permission to plant some trees and he got it. And he put a row in there in that’s, of course, Beacon Street, as we know, today.

So the common was Boston’s main green public place. But there was a couple of others. There was a bowling green that I think, as far as I can make out, was sort of located somewhere today near like the government center garage, Haymarket T, sort of in that general area. I have not found any images yet of that bowling green, but there was that. And then there was something called Paddock’s Mall. And this was a series of 16 or so elms that were planted in front of the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. It was called Paddock’s Mall because these trees have been planted by Captain Adino Paddock. He was a coachmaker who lived just down the street on Tremont. And these trees were, these elms were imported, they were English elms, they were imported from England as saplings. They were kept in the nursery in Milton until they were large enough to be transplanted back onto the street. And they were special because this is one of the few trees that were planted on the street. But their claim to fame was that they kept their leaves five to six weeks longer than the elms in the common just nearby. So there is the common on the left, there’s Park Street Church and there’s the granary brewing ground right there.

So in addition, Boston also had a couple of important public trees, I call them. And first was the Great Elm on the common. It has an odd but interesting story because it grew on the common, it was there for like a hundred and seventy-five years before basically anybody paid attention to it. It was there, it was just a tree. It wasn’t special and it was a large tree, had been there for a long time. Nobody knew exactly when it was planted. Nobody really cared until the 1820s. And this was a time when Americans were discovering, as they said, a love of antiquity. They started to understand how important, especially Boston was in the history of this new country. And they were proud of themselves and they called this tree, they realized it’s called, “a dumb witness.” They said this is a tree that saw the beginning of everything and they saw it linked to the revolution, to the city that it is today, it became really important.

And there was a lot of argument whether the tree was there when the settlers came — this is what the enthusiasts really wanted to believe. It was believed and more likely that it was transplanted sometime in the 1670s from a fellow called Daniel Henchman who lived in the north end, and that he planted the tree because he thought it would be nice for the soldiers to have a little bit of shade because they practiced on their and for the cows to have a little bit of shade. But because this was so important, a lot of people argued that this tree had been there, like, forever, and before the European white settlers arrived. So by the early 1800s, Boston just had a full-blown love affair with this tree. They measured it, they admired it, they wrote about it. They just revered this tree. And just as a fun aside, squirrels were introduced to the common in the 1850s as it says, “to beautify and enlivened the landscape.” They thought this would be sort of entertaining for people in the Commons to have these squirrels running around.

So this tree was so, so important. They put an iron fence around it, eventually in the 1850s to protect it. But by the late 1800s, no matter when it was first planted, before the settlers, or if it was planted in the 1670s, it was a very old tree. And these storms, every bad storm that came along, it was knocking off branches. And finally, in February 1876, the whole huge tree came down and the town was just devastated. This tree was so important that people, as soon as they heard that the Great Elm was down, they all rushed to the common, they had to have the police there keeping the crowds away because they were all trying to get a piece of wood or a souvenir of this wood. And a lot of those pieces were turned into memorial furniture. There was one that was given to the Boston Public Library and the city hall had some. But this tree was really important. And as one of the newspapers said, that the city bitterly mourned their loss and that though all of New England was sad, Massachusetts was plunged into inconsolable grief.

So the one other really important tree in Boston was the Liberty Tree. It was located at the corner of Essex and Orange Street, which is now Washington. It was an elm tree in the tavern and it was named by the American Patriots in 1765, called it the Liberty Tree. And it was from this tree that they hung the effigies of the despised British tax collectors and government officials, not the actual people, but the effigies were hung from there. And people who are accused of being traitors to the American cause, they were tarred and feathered, put on a cart, and they would be carried by — this would be on the route of carrying them through the town. 10 years later, during the siege of Boston, the British troops chopped down the tree because they knew how important it was to the Americans. And then the stump remained there, it was revered for decades afterwards.

Over to New York. They had three sort of principal green public spaces: The Battery, Bowling Green, and The Fields. And probably the most innovative and for the time, by far the most impressive was the Bowling Green. And this was land just out in front of the fort. The space out in front of the fort had been used as a gain market and a butcher’s shamble, which is, a butcher’s shamble is basically a, it’s a market. Animals were brought in and slaughtered on the spot and then sold. And what they decided to do is not have a market, but to create a formal public square. They enclosed it with a fence, they were going to make a bowling green with walks for the beauty and ornament of the street, as well as the recreation and delight of the inhabitants. So it what was so important about this, this is basically like the first time in America that a town consciously designed and built a place for the purpose of beautifying the town or for the pleasure of its residents. This was a big deal for New York.

One of the other green spaces was the Field to the Commons, nothing like the fancy Bowling Green, this is where the workhouse, the jail, the gallows, graveyards — they had some trees there, but it was definitely very utilitarian. It was not intended for the pleasure of anybody. The third place was the battery, it was originally part of the town’s defenses, but as that wasn’t necessary, it gradually became planted with trees and it was converted to this cool and delightful promenade. You know, breezes would be blowing off the water, so it would be probably one of the coolest places in town.

So both Boston and New York had some trees, private yards, it was not too far from the countryside. They had a few in public places, but just not much in the way of street trees. And that began to change in the late seventeen hundreds. So the city’s attitudes towards street trees went from disinterest, even hostility I would say, to really overwhelming enthusiasm over a period of 20 or 30 years. And this didn’t happen in a vacuum. So the question was why? This is what really interested me. Like, why all of a sudden did the trees go from being something just you didn’t do to something that you just absolutely did if you could? So this is the research I undertook. And so when I found out there were three forces that came together to create an environment for street trees: there are new ideas about aesthetics, there are new theories about public health and disease, and there was an introduction of fire insurance.

So first, aesthetics. In the 17th and 18th century, there was a lot of discussion for the first time about the aesthetic ideal, what’s beautiful, what’s ornamentation. It began with John Locke and Joseph Addison, and Locke proposed this idea, very novel idea, that individuals could perceive beauty through their own senses. They didn’t have to take it from the church or from the royalty — that they could decide themselves through their own senses, whether something was beautiful or not. And Joseph Addison proposed the idea that beautiful things could be combined with productive things. For example, a field of wheat could be beautiful. But whereas before people sort of thought, well, that’s work, that’s food production, that can’t be beautiful. And he proposed this idea that it could be one of the same. So these were radically new ideas.

Locke and Addison were followed by William Hogarth, an artist and writer, a very important figure. And his work was — developed the ideas about what’s beautiful, that got a lot of attention. He did a lot of work on these sinuous curves, like what’s the most beautiful curve? And he was so well known that his death was reported in Boston newspapers and his essays could be bought in both New York and Boston. Other British theorists that became well known in America was Edmund Burke. He proposed the aesthetic ideal of the sublime. This is, if you think of Niagara Falls, that would be considered sublime, sort of wild, overwhelming, fantastic, sublime. William Gilpin and Uvedale Price proposed a new aesthetic called The Picturesque, which was between the sublime, the wild and awesome sublime, and the quieter beauty. And so these are ideas that people debated a lot. I mean, it’s not often that we do that these days, but these were really important ideas that people talked about. All their books could be bought. You can look at ads from bookstores in both Boston and New York at the time and you could buy their books. So people were really grappling with these ideas. And they began to discuss the idea about aesthetics and the city and the rural. People were also more aware of what was happening in other places, certainly in New York and Boston would know about this new capital, Washington, DC, designed by Pierre L’Enfant and with its unusually wide streets and lined with these Poplar trees, Lombardy Poplar. So people knew about that. So this whole idea was starting to bubble in people’s minds.

Second force that was happening came from new ideas about comfort and public health. So it looks like shade just wasn’t something that was particularly valued. Or perhaps it just wasn’t a condition that anyone expected to experience on the streets. And any sort of writing about shade usually was more in the rural context or a more romantic context, you know, referring to troops, you know, relaxing under trees in the shade or farm workers resting under the tree at noon. And there just was no mention of shade in the city. It just didn’t apply. So, 1700s, new medical theories emerged, especially about yellow fever and both cities, all cities, just had these epidemics to sweep through, killing thousands and just every few years there would be another terrible epidemic. Yellow fever was one of them. And it was thought, the theory was, that yellow fever was caused by the pestilential constitution of hot air, and this was caused by rotting flesh of animals and rotting vegetables. We later learned it was transmitted by mosquitoes, but pestilential air was what people believed. And hot air in particular. So the idea was if air could be cooled, that would help reduce the disease. So how do you cool cities? Trees. So the proposed solution was that, well, we could have streets lined with trees that would shade the pavements and keep them cool, and this would reduce the transmission of yellow fever. And they also were onto the idea that trees could absorb bad particles and generate fresh and wholesome air.

Then the third force, all happening at the same time — this is like in the very late 1700s. A third force was fire insurance. So every city everywhere they suffered from really frequent and disastrous fires. The scale was just enormous. Like every week, if you read the newspapers, every week there was a fire in Boston and New York. So they suffered major fire after major fire. And fire was deeply feared because it utterly destroyed homes and businesses. Fire equipment was really minimal. They didn’t have much resources to fight fire. All social classes were vulnerable. This wasn’t something that the wealthy could avoid. So even if they escaped with their lives, there was no insurance, few resources. People were usually just completely financially ruined. So people were really, really worried about fire.

The first fire insurance was introduced in London after the Great Fire of 1666 that wiped out most of London. The Hand-In-Hand company opened in 1709 and 40 years later, Benjamin Franklin co-founded something called the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. And so that was the first fire insurance available in the country. But in spite of its advantages, it didn’t really catch on very quickly because the company also had this very, very long list of places that they didn’t insure, like most houses, warehouses, businesses, things like that. And people were really doubtful if they made a claim whether they would get any money back or not. So they weren’t completely convinced. The directors of the Philadelphia Contributorship decided that any house with a tree in front of it could not be insured, which was bad for street trees, but the result was a new start up, The Mutual Insurance Company in 1784, and their mark was they had the green tree made of led fastened to this wooden shield, and if you were insured under them, you had this on your front door so people would know that you were A) insured and B) if you had a tree out front that you were covered.

So Philadelphia was the only American city with fire insurance. Seemed like a good idea. New Yorkers asked why they didn’t, you know, they said it proved very useful and advantageous, like, how come? And they asked the city to act like men and to basically step up and help prevent scenes of misery and distress, because it would been another large fire that had did a lot of destruction. So they were saying, we should have one of these too. And they did. They finally had mutual insurance company in 1787. Boston didn’t have theirs until the very late 1790s.

But the real breakthrough was in 1797, the Insurance Company of North America described all the conditions under which they would insure a home or a business. And this is like minute, minute detail. And there was absolutely no mention, no stipulation, no condition about street trees. Which meant you could have a street tree in front of your business or your home and be insured. So by 1800, New York newspaper reassured the readers that indeed they were at liberty to plant trees and they encouraged them to do so because, as they said, the ornament and utility of trees are so self-evident, it’s hoped that the practice will become general. And general it did. The enthusiasm for street trees just grew very, very quickly.

This was the new development on Franklin Street in Boston, and they would include new trees. This is the south end — small trees. This is Mount Vernon. They have these very nice tree guards to protect them from carriages and horses and other animals and people. As green spaces were developed, as both cities started to expand, if they incorporate some kind of a green open space or park, they would plant trees when possible. This images in South Boston, same in New York. Trees started being planted in the street and in public places. The battery had more trees planted. They had basically sort of a double row, single to double row along there as a promenade, and that expanded — they planted a lot more trees. So this is at the very tip of Manhattan. There’s the battery right there, more trees. And then they also expanded, with landfill, they started expanding the land as well to surround Castle Garden and planted all that with trees as well. And just as an aside, Castle Garden was the first American immigration center from 1820 to 1892, 11 million people were processed through there. And then that was replaced by Ellis Island from 1890 to onward to the 20s, who another 20 million people were processed through that.

So Bowling Green already had trees, but more were planted in nearby streets, so like the trees from the Bowling Green started to expand throughout the city. And you can — the image there on the right is the Bowling Green. You can see in the distance more trees being planted. New developments, again, both cities would plant new trees. And you can see here you could see why those tree guards would be useful, meaning the carts and against it horses would rip off the bark, so the tree guards were important. And it wasn’t just New York and Boston. The idea of street trees spread to other cities, including Philadelphia — this is an image that I found and you can see they kind of planted the trees sometimes sort of in the sidewalk. And they also did it right at the curb sometimes too. How they survived is just mind-boggling. And this is a side, the types of trees because of their high tolerance, Elms and Linden’s were the most preferred street tree. Later horse chestnuts and maples and the London plane tree — London plane tree New York became famous for. And then in the 18th and 19th century, there was a real fad for Lombardy poplars because it grew so fast and they were columnar shape and so that made for a good street tree — wouldn’t interfere with the houses on the side.

So in summary, so when James Stewart, 1771, said that a garden in the street is not less absurd than the street in the garden, he was right. It really was a ridiculous idea. But within 30 years, the attitude completely reversed because of new ideas about urban aesthetics, and the role that the trees could play, new medical theories and about how trees could help prevent disease and epidemics, and the introduction of fire insurance. So with these three conditions, street trees became an urban necessity rather than an absurdity.

The controversial history of ‘street trees’ in Boston and NYC (Discussion)

Julian Agyeman: Thanks very much, Anne. What a fascinating talk. And as I said at the beginning, it’s so nice to get down to some specific historical detail. But I have to just let it out here, I am distressed to know that Sir James’s Mall,  the inspiration was from the French. It really doesn’t sit well with me, but you know, I’m going to put my big boy pants on and get over it.

Anne Beamish: They took the game and then they played pall mall and then it came out of fashion and then they started using it.

Julian Agyeman: Yeah, ok, I’m going to move on swiftly. Now, let’s get some questions, we have some good questions here. So where does the public tree’s timeline of the US fall with respect to that of Europe — especially that Europe is known for its street planning?

Anne Beamish: Good question. I am not an expert in that, but a lot of the ideas — there was so much conversation and communication between both Europe and North America. I would have a real strong guess that it happened at the same time — that the other infrastructure, whether it be street lighting or street trees, they were also happening in London and to a certain extent in Paris as well. So a lot of the ideas probably did start in Europe and transmitted over, communicated back to the US. A lot of the development in the US historically sort of mirrored what was going on, as they say, in the old countries.

Julian Agyeman: Great, ok. We’ve got another question. So this is from Zacchia, and he says, are there accounts of the success of those early street trees? How did cities ensure they grew healthily and not disrupt the street with their roots? Or was the ground much more permeable?

Anne Beamish: Well, it was more permeable, absolutely. The pavings was spotty at best, and drainage was not that great. So there was — so water wasn’t whisked away quite as quickly as it is now. So the ground was absolutely more permeable. But those trees, I mean, I can’t imagine a more difficult environment for a tree to survive. And they often didn’t survive just because horses and carriages crashed into them all the time. But they would replant them and they would try to protect them. But the city — it was often the responsibility of the homeowner who took care of them. It wasn’t the city so much. It was much later, probably in sort of the teen, 1920s before cities started having arborists and taking a much more hands on control of the maintenance of the trees.

But it would be — that was your tree if it was out in front of your house and you would do your best to protect it. But really, as you could see, I mean, that last image that I have of the one on Brattle Street of it sort of being out in the middle of the street, I mean, I can’t imagine how it just lasted as long as it did to get that large. So, yeah, they didn’t last. The knowledge about how to look after trees and if they were diseased wasn’t all that well developed. So they often didn’t last very long and they would be taken down. And trees came and went in fashion was very popular. I mentioned it was really popular for a while and then for several reasons, cities just started taking them out and replacing them with native trees. So the ones that were planted probably had a fairly short life, but some absolutely did last.

Julian Agyeman: I noticed, you know, London plane, it’s actually a Spanish tree, we just gave it the name London plane because they were looking around for a tree basically that could survive in the awful London air. And this tree was that one, but it’s actually a Spanish tree. But that’s interesting, isn’t it, how cities claimed species. Linden is the German word for lime. Lindens were very popular in Germany as well. And so very, very interesting Anne. Becky Adelman asks, what happens to street trees now that so many of them are sick and dying? In my hometown, a record number of street trees have been taken down in the last year. What kind of species do we need to plant now that will be resilient into the future?

Anne Beamish: That depends on where you live. Most cities have arborists now and — maybe smaller towns might not. Each city I know Manhattan, here in Kansas, they have a list of street trees that they have found to be more resilient for our area, for our climate that will last. And there are lots of different ones, but we never know which diseases are going to be coming along. So there would be like half a dozen. I’m just thinking of the ones that went out on our street just in the past few years, types of maples. Gosh, I’m trying to think — I think there was an elm farther up the street. Oaks, some of those. It’s real variety. But if you’re losing them in your town or city, go to the city and find out if you have an arborist and make a request and insist that they come back and replace them because they should and they will. They usually will. And they’ll come along, and this is what they do here in our city, anyway, you have a choice, like this is your choice of five or six, if it’s going to be in front of your house, you get to decide which one is out there. You still have to look after it and water it and things like that, but they’ll come in plant it. They’ll take out the old tree and plant it and tell you what you need to do to look after it.

Julian Agyeman: Colloquium Watch Party is asking, is there any dialogue between trees in the city and the idea of garden cities?

Anne Beamish: Well, garden cities just came out of the idea of that to escape the city and you would be in a healthier environment of the country. You know, it’s sort of this middle ground between the country and the city. So absolutely it would be greener, there would be more trees in any of the garden cities that were developed, especially the ones in the UK. The trees would be part of it, a green would be that aspect.

Julian Agyeman: That’s a good segue into the question I have. You didn’t actually talk about this, but I’m just thinking, I remember some time maybe in the 80s or 90s, I began to hear of this concept of the urban forest and it was coming over from the US and it was big then. And so we’re not thinking of individual trees, but we’re thinking of them as part of an urban forest. Can you say a little bit about how the concept of the urban forest came about?

Anne Beamish: Well, it came out from a combination of all the environmental issues that cities were having, that certainly single street trees, which I look at that smaller granular amount, just wasn’t enough. And that they were losing — the forests and the woods near cities were being wiped out because of development. So it’s this idea of trying to reclaim some of the canopy, you know, and trying to reduce some of the heat island effect that was happening in cities. That this was like one of these solutions that cities could quietly contribute to the level of both air pollution and heat pollution, and I mean, all the Northeast was completely forested at one point, but try to reclaim some of that environment. And then creating some of the ecosystems within that forest, which then animals could live and, you know, just supporting life, basically. And yeah, a lot more cities are getting a lot more interested in this idea of urban forests.

Julian Agyeman: Danielle Jameson is asking, in her neighborhood in Queens, there are many mulberry trees as other types of fruit trees. Most people see them as a nuisance, but are there any efforts to plant more fruit trees in cities? I know Seattle’s been doing something. And there’s the League of Urban Canners in the Boston area. What do you think about that?

Anne Beamish: Yes, I usually don’t like fruit trees just because they’re messy. You know, they have fruit, they drop the fruit, you know, on cars, they drop them on people. And it makes, as the person just said, yeah, people see them as a nuisance rather than pleasure. So, yeah, I don’t know very many cities at all who would plant a fruit tree as a street tree. I mean, they might plant them in parks or public areas, but on the street they are kind of a nuisance for sure, for all the stuff that just drops and rots and messes up things.

Julian Agyeman: Another question from Colloquium Watch Party, are there any underlying racial inequities in the distribution and support for trees?

Anne Beamish: Oh, yeah, there are. My research hasn’t gone very deeply into that. But certainly wealthy neighborhoods have more trees than the non wealthy neighborhoods. And there’s a whole group of people who are getting much more conscious about heat island effect, and the point that low income neighborhoods don’t have trees and they’re hotter and they’re more miserable, people standing out waiting for public transportation don’t have shade. And it is an equity issue that the trees there aren’t as many of them as they are in wealthier neighborhoods. So there’s absolutely an equity issue when it comes to street trees.

Julian Agyeman: And just to build on that Vivek Shandas, who’s a professor at Portland State, and his colleagues did some work looking at urban heat islands and red lining. And there’s an absolute correlation between urban heat and previously red lined areas. And there’s a fantastic sort of set of graphics for this in The New York Times. So if you Google “Shandas urban heat island trees,” you’ll find this. But really is very interesting work. And it’s yeah, professor Vivek Shandas at Portland State has done this work. Yeah, Meghan has just said that the Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle — Meghan, do you want to say a word about the Beacon Hill Food Forest? Is it actually an orchard?

Meghan?: The Beacon Hill Food Forest is located like right nestled in on I-5 highway. And the idea was to create a space where more of a permaculture sort of aspect instead of a garden or a street tree. So things are really intermingled, there’s many different levels of plants. However, it was planned by nobody who lived in the community, installed by nobody who lived in the community. And so it kind of flopped.

Julian Agyeman: Thanks for that. Question from Laurie Goldman, how does the role of the municipal arborist relate to community member care of trees? What do we know about employment programs for tree planting and care?

Anne Beamish: Well, I would imagine that that varies a whole lot between cities. As I say, I think most cities have at least one arborist on their payroll these days, and they work closely with residents because the residents are responsible for the actual maintenance and care, if it’s on the street in front of their house. So they do work quite closely with them or I think they should. I don’t know if there’s been any programs for like involving youth for training about street trees. I would imagine larger cities that might be something that happens — certainly doesn’t happen in our town. But that would be a really interesting program for sure.

Julian Agyeman: I’ve come across, you know, in some of my environmental education research, a lot of schools can do this kind of thing. Schools taking responsibility for trees in the locality, getting kids involved. So I think, Laurie, there is, bit what we need to do a little bit of research on this. And Laurie has just said there’s a model in Hartford with returning prisoners. Laurie, do you want to just say a word about that?

Laurie: It’s New Haven, not Hartford. I mistyped. Yeah, it’s a program that trains ex offenders in tree planting and tree care. And it’s intended as a way of giving people who have a [quarry] and then have a hard time finding employment, employment, experience, and some skills. And I know that a former Tufts arborist, who is now an arborist in the city of Cambridge, has been really interested in replicating it. I’m wondering if we know how many programs like this, not necessarily with that population, but with other target populations there are around the country.

Julian Agyeman: Ok, I don’t think we have any more questions, or do we? Does anybody want to just open up and ask a question rather than type it in? We have an expert here. Meghan.

Meghan?: Dr. Beamish, I mentioned a little bit about permaculture versus straight planting of trees. Have you seen any examples in the United States or internationally where they’re starting to shift their thinking about how people move in space and the plants around it?

Anne Beamish: Are you saying are people just thinking about trees differently than they have in the past or…?

Meghan: I’m thinking about how instead of planting trees in, say, like rows, how do people move within the space and how can the space be maximized to give this more like eco feeling?

Anne Beamish: Well, I think people are moving from the idea of a tree as this specimen. This one thing, stand alone, no connection to anything else. It’s your tree in front of the house. And so — and this is very much about what trees are all about, that they, yeah, sort of collectively they were something, but people saw them as individual specimens. And I think you’re right. I think there is more movement for people to understand trees collectively. This is where some of the thinking more about a shade canopy, thinking about the ecology of trees and how as a group they do something different than sort of a single specimen, either in your yard or out on the street. So, yeah, I think absolutely people are thinking about the more not as one thing, but as a group for sure.

Julian Agyeman: [00:40:45] We got a question. Is there a functional difference leading towards municipal preference for trees over shrubs?

Anne Beamish: Yeah, that’s because trees gives shade. Shrubs don’t, usually. Cities don’t usually like planting shrubs unless it’s in a park, but on a street, they don’t like shrubs so much because while the tree is its physical form, it’s a very narrow thing where people are. And big on top was the shrub is, depending on the shrub, clearly, can be very large on the bottom. So it would block movement from the street to your house and things like that. So it’s just the shape of shrubs are less advantageous than a tree. When it comes to shade, it would certainly contribute to the ecology and such, but if you’re worried about shade and things like that, then larger canopy trees are a preference for most municipalities.

Julian Agyeman: I’ve got a question for you, a lot of what you described was very much ornamental, you know, picturesque, all of these influences were towards the ornamental end. And now, you know, as a landscape designer, 1969, design with nature, [McHarg] and then all the wildlife trusts, urban wildlife, the sort of ecological turn. What big effects has that had on the urban forest? Are we going for native species in terms of trees, even when some of them don’t survive in urban climates? What’s been the big effect of the ecological turn since, say, 1970?

Anne Beamish: Well, I think the interest in native plants actually started much earlier in the 20th century because there was a real movement against foreign, they called it, foreign trees, that we didn’t need that here in America. And so there was a real push for native trees and realizing that they actually survived here much better. But I think that that ecological environmental turn at that time, I think, again, it’s like back to the question of Meghan, that, I think it’s less about, you know, this, oh, that’s a pretty single ornamental thing. It’s not — it’s less an object. And I think people are really seeing it now much more as a system. This is part of a much larger whole. It is, yes, it may be a nice tree in front of your house, but it is part of a larger whole. And I believe cities are thinking about it that way much more than they did before. So I think, yeah, it’s just gone from the single object to a collective and seeing how they work together. I think that that is very different than I’d say that early 20th century.

Julian Agyeman: Right, well, and what a fascinating talk and again, I’m really looking forward to reading more of your work. Thanks Anne. And next week, we have Sheila Foster, who will be discussing her forthcoming book on “Co-Cities,” which is about the co-produced city. So, again, Anne thanks, fascinating work.