Trees in London

by Rebecca Lardeur
website - instagram

We hear the conversation that centres around the dire need to plant trees, yet not many of us think about the care trees require once they have been planted. Rebecca Lardeur’s investigation into urban trees showed her the ways in which we plant trees as a token environmental gesture, lacking systems in place to guarantee their well-being. After only a few years of care, urban trees are left to their own devices with low long-term survival rate. Many factors contribute to this – lack of water, trimming of roots, condensed soil mixed withrubble limiting root expansion - all of which stem from a desire to accommodate humans over trees.

Rebecca looked into theories of care, so as to use them to create a new and healthy relationship between humans and trees. Street trees could be at the centre of our social and environmental health, if we made caring for them part of our local and civic duties. Her work also outlines ways in which caring for trees could become economically self-sustaining. For now, there is money to plant trees, but not to care for them. Yet if this investigation proves anything, it is that planting is the first step on a much longer and important journey.

Creative Proposition: Street Trees Clinic

Propositions for social digital infrastructure systems for healthy street trees
Series of digital drawings

In London, ‘the average life expectancy of a street tree is just 10 years’. Based on a conversation with Hackney’s Senior Arboricultural officer, trees’ three biggest threats are lack of water, soil being too compact, and insufficient nutrients. Things could be easily solved with a bit of spare time. But at the levels of the council, with thousands of trees, time becomes a luxury. Their budget is focused on planting, with only a smallpercentage going towards maintaining trees. But it costs a lot of money to remove a dead tree. Intervening early would save money and deliver environmental benefits for urban residents. 

Street Trees Clinic proposes to ensure common care of healthy trees by acting as a hub of environmental health, similar to going to the doctors for humans. Symptoms of trees would be collected via sensors and data collection (science), understood through information dissemination and exchange (technology),to mediate between street trees and humans (knowledge exchange) to create the foundations for care systems. If you received a notification on your phone that the recently planted tree outside your door could do with a bit of water today, would you take the time to water it? If it was to ensure your kids can breathe fresh air and lower energy bills? And if not, why not pay someone to do it and make businesses pay for it? 

The hub would exist both online and in the physical world. Online, because phones and websites break down communication barriers and speed up our ability to exchange information, and it connects. In the physical world, to ensure inclusivity, support physical needs, and create the space for support fostering good tree health for the changing climate. There are ways to make this financially viable. Quantifying gained environmental benefits, reductions in energy and  infrastructure costs, value gained in properties, data, and more are roads to generate revenue. However, costs would be best paid by local councils, local businesses or infrastructure bodies.

But this money could then be directly redistributed to the local community caring for trees, whether in cash or goods. The following images showcase illustrations of what this could look like. It shows the relationships between humans, the digital world, sensors, and the trees; before moving to a mapping of potential services to conclude what the app could look like on your phone. 

We are still not able to speak to trees, but science teaches us we can try. We might not yet be able to understand how they understand us, but we surely can learn a few things about their preferences, needs, and desires by measuring and comparing findings.

I want to thank all the people who have answered my questions throughout the project and helped define Street Trees Clinic: Emily Lines, Rupert Bentley-Walls, Sue James, Mary S. Booth, Paul Wood and Bruce Saunders.