Designing with trees

Many of you know me as a people mobilizer. As Manager, Volunteer and Community Engagement at LEAF, I don’t often get a chance to really dig in (pardon the pun) to the concepts and difficulties landscape architects face when working to beautify our urban spaces. But I often walk by parks and only see the final product... we “tree people” may even get upset with chosen species or how the trees are planted. What we don’t see is all of the difficult trouble-shooting that’s required in urban planning. So at this years Spreading Roots conference I was excited to listen to Greg Warren talk about designing with trees.

My time as a steward

Outside of the Spadina subway station on Walmer Road there is a garden. When I talk about it with others, I refer to it as my own and I am proud to be its steward with my good friend, Asher Miller. When I first visited the plot, there was little more than rubble, garbage, a lonely tree and a lot of work to be done before we could begin planting.

Healthy roots mean healthy trees

Nina Bassuk describes the way she'll start off with a new group of students: asking them to draw a simple picture of a tree. In this anecdote all of the usual suspects show up - trunks, branches, leaves and even a bird or two to represent wildlife. “But,” she says, “what is glaringly absent from almost all of these tree portraits are the life-supporting root systems.” Bassuk, Professor and Program Leader of the Urban Horticulture Institute at Cornell University, goes on to explain what is wrong with these pictures - and what an eye-opening experience it is.

Artist Noel Harding; where art and nature intersect.

Noel Harding is a Canadian artist with a colourful career spanning over 30 years. You may recognize his large-scale pieces of public art as infrastructure, such as Windsor’s living bridges, Toronto’s free standing wetlands, and Mississauga’s trees planters growing three stories above city hall (represented Canada at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but never re-erected). His work examines the intersection of complex social, environmental and urban planning issues and during the Q and A, I asked him to define his form of functional social environmental design.