Cambridge is justifiably proud of being the Town of Trees, and it is an important reason why people want to move here. The benefits of urban trees are not just aesthetic; now known as Green Infrastructure (as opposed to grey infrastructure – roads, buildings, carparks) trees provide ‘services’: environmental (cleaner air , summer cooling, decreased water run-off, biodiversity); economic (energy saving, improved house values); social (encouraging walking, social interaction, human physical and mental well-being). And the greater the total leaf surface area of the tree, the greater its benefits.
But as new developments spring up in all directions, Cambridge is in danger of losing its treed character. People want affordable housing so compact urban design is desirable. But surely there are better ways to achieve this than what we now see unfolding; individual houses crammed so close there is no room for shade trees in gardens; strips between footpath and road too narrow to support a decent-sized tree, while many of those planted in recent years have sulked, been left to grow unsightly or died.
And now Council, to its credit, is set on encouraging commuter walking and cycling, but who will be tempted to walk from their new home through hot streets to work, shop or school and then trudge home again, all hot and sweaty? We need to plan from the outset for adequate space for decent-sized street trees, determine varieties suitable to the situation, plant with care and then maintain them through their early years. We need better design, with narrower streets to slow cars, wider footpaths, separated by wider green strips for decent-sized trees that shade our footpaths and encourage people to use active transport. There is no need for compact housing to be a desert if we plan for decent-sized street trees from the outset.