Talk of sidewalk repair sparks ficus tree debate

| October 29, 2015 | 0 Comments
CANOPY of trees can take years to replace, critics warn.

CANOPY of trees can take years to replace, critics warn.

Following an article in the Larchmont Chronicle in September on a citywide program being developed to repair sidewalks damaged by tree roots, comments from residents concerned for Larchmont Blvd. poured in.

“One of the reasons we moved to the area was the boulevard with its wonderful restaurants, unique stores and beautiful canopy of ficus trees,” says Windsor Square resident, Adrienne Cole.

“These stately lush trees and newly landscaped medians allow Larchmont to stand out as a warm, family-friendly neighborhood. If these trees are removed to repair the unsightly sidewalks, new trees must replace them for both shade and beauty,” added Cole.

Dr. Gary Schiller, a Hancock Park adjacent resident, points out “although inconvenient, the boulevard has done a great job of ameliorating the effects of roots on the sidewalk.

“These trees, that provide so much needed shade on a hot, mid-city boulevard, cannot really be replaced. Any replacement tree will take 50 years to mature, and will not provide the canopy of these trees,” says Dr. Schiller.

“It will be a sad day when they are removed in order to address a threat or grievance of a disgruntled minority,” he concluded.

Margaret Shipman, a resident on Lucerne Blvd., echoed these sentiments, saying she understands that roots can be destructive, but thinks “the bigger issue is how long it will take to grow new trees as large as the current canopy, which has helped Larchmont become a ‘destination spot.’

“We can see where individual shops have cut roots and replaced cement in the past; this needs to be done everywhere,” says Shipman.

The problem

Tom Kneafsey, president of the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District (LVBID), previously told the Larchmont Chronicle that the ficus trees on Larchmont Blvd. have aggressive roots systems that tear up the sidewalk and create expensive, complicated plumbing problems for merchants and building owners.

“We need a solution for repairs that works for our property owners,” said Kneafsey.

Which raises the question, if something must be done, what is the best plan of action?

Expert opinion

“The problem with this situation is that ficus should never have been planted in so small a tree well, so close to structures,” says senior manager of TreePeople’s Forestry Project, Michael Carmichael.

“Urban forestry is still a young science, and in many situations, we are only just now starting to understand and learn from the mistakes of mid-20th century policies.”

But is there a way to save the trees and make improvements?

Cities like Seattle and Palo Alto are employing techniques to fight infrastructure damage that we can look to for ideas, says Carmichael, which include increasing the size of a tree well, meandering sidewalks around affected roots, and even retrofitting the area around a mature tree with permeable pavement, to allow for better water infiltration.

“In turn, these techniques can help to decrease flood events and increase local water supply, while simultaneously creating a healthier, more sustainable space for a tree to thrive.”

Regardless of which techniques stakeholders decide to use in Larchmont Village, Carmichael is clear about one thing: “there are better ways of transitioning existing canopy than to remove it all at once and replace it with significantly smaller, younger trees.

“A decent compromise would be to replace the trees several at a time, over a period of several years, to continue benefiting from the mature ficus canopy, while nurturing the replacement canopy.”

By Billy Taylor

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Category: News

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