trees and urban landscape design of green square library

Trees are beautiful to look at – the lush greenery, the sound of leaves, the way the connect the Earth to the sky. However, as William ‘Chip’ Winslow – a landscape architecture professor at Texas A&M University – explains, trees bring more than aesthetic value to urban landscape design.

“The biggest things that trees provide for us are ecosystem services, which helps the entire environment,” Winslow says. “Many people don’t realize that not only do they give off oxygen, essential to our survival, but trees can help absorb water through their root systems.”

Trees soak up water and help minimise the damages caused by heavy rainfall and flooding. They also decrease stormwater runoff when planted as part of a wetlands system. “If it’s the right tree in the right place,” says Winslow.

“The services that trees bring, such as shade, add value to an area. When you get rid of a tree, you don’t get those anymore, so that value drops.”

Trees are clearly valuable, yet they still aren’t being incorporated into every architectural or landscape design. This is partly because businesses don’t understand (or prioritise) the benefits.

“People want their signs and storefronts to be seen and don’t want to deal with fallen leaves and branches, plus there is always ongoing maintenance to be done to keep a tree healthy,” Winslow says.

It can also be difficult to build around a tree or insert one into a specific place. Tree root systems are vast, and the health of a tree’s roots can determine whether a tree lives or dies. As such, the right systems and care are required to preserve or add a tree to a landscape.

To add a tree, contractors must ensure the tree and its roots have adequate space to expand and grow. Without the required space, the tree’s root system may be suffocated, eventually killing the tree.

Once planted, trees need to be regularly assessed for health. A landscape design that incorporates a tree into its look will be significantly diminished if that tree dies. That’s why careful consideration is needed to choose the most suitable species before construction begins.

A final thing to consider when designing a green urban space is the history of the area or the tree you are building around. Many cities have rules that forbid removal of heritage trees, or trees over a certain size.

“These are the kinds of trees that are part of and belong to the community, not just the landowner,” said Winslow.

A stunning example is Texas A&M’s famous Century Tree. As well as being a large, attractive live oak, the Century Tree is part of the tradition and culture of the university.

“Heritage trees like this one are part of the history of an area and certainly must be planned around,” Winslow said.