Urban Tree Conflicts

The verdict is in: trees are beneficial both to the natural and human environment. However, is there any way that planting trees can be detrimental?

Any arborist or urban forester will tell you, “right tree, right place”; this is their mantra.

On a recent visit to a school campus where the students were about to plant trees on the school grounds, as the benefits of tree planting were being explained, a student made the point that, “trees can be bad." A comment such as this from a student in the 5th grade piqued my interest, so I asked the student to explain further. His response included various mishaps involving trees such as trees might fall on houses and/or people. That student was absolutely correct!

Trees— though we love them, can and do conflict with many aspects of our daily lives. Trees may create conflict with:

· Sidewalks

· Signs

· Parking lots

· Sewer lines

· Utility wires both above and below ground

· Other trees

· Invasive species (they can overcrowd and outcompete native species)

· Buildings (as the student mentioned)

One of most prevalent urban tree conflicts is sidewalks, which can cost a city hundreds of thousands of dollars in sidewalk repairs. This is often seen in cracked, raised, and misaligned sidewalks most often arising from planting trees too close to sidewalks. In order to alleviate this issue, a system can be created to accommodate tree roots. Also, instead of dealing with the trees themselves, the sidewalk can be rerouted to give the tree roots more room to grow. Moreover, trees should merely be planted where there is enough soil and space for the tree to grow without experiencing multiple types of collisions. This solution will give trees a better change to thrive and be an asset to the urban landscape.

Ultimately, it goes back to the planning process: the site selection, the specific tree species, and where exactly they are planted. Simply put, “right tree, right place."

Check out our tree resources here.

Blog author: Colleen Berg, Education Program Specialist

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