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Is there space for trees on Dublin 8 streets?

Trees

Often hidden among the red-brick buildings and the cream and rust flats, sparse patches of grass and trees decorate the Liberties. 

However, due to the density of building in the area, whether or not there’s space for trees on narrow streets is a very debatable topic. 

Reginald Street is certainly one that comes to mind when considering an area in the Liberties with luscious trees. Built in the 1880s, the road is now also lined with car spaces and shares the domed Sacred Heart Shrine (‘The Monument’) at the junction with Gray Street. 

While it’s definitely a picturesque location throughout the seasons, the broad shape of the trees makes the street look even narrower than it actually may be.

Trees that are too wide can have a number of implications, including a blockage of natural light. The roots can also grow up through the pavement in search of water and nutrients, causing uneven surfaces and often trip hazards. 

In fact, chief executive of Dublin City Council Owen Keegan recently told the Sunday Business Post that he’d like to cut down every roadside tree due to the amount of personal injury claims that are lodged due to the congestion of underground roots. 

“Instead of removing [them], I would prefer if trees that are considered a health and safety hazard to the public be replaced with smaller, more suitable trees that fit better with narrow residential streets,” Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Watters said.

The Liberties is comparatively short of street greenery, with an estimated 1,200 trees on the area’s roadsides. While Reginald Street has big blooming trees that alter the road’s appearance, what can be done for other walkways that still remain bare?

Very few streets may be actually too narrow to house trees – it may simply be a case of finding space for them. Green Party councillor for South West Inner City Michael Pidgeon suggested removing car spaces or widening pavements. 

“If there’s no space for a tree on a street, it can often be found if you remove parking or narrow the roadway,” Pidgeon said.

Stephen Coyne from Dublin City Council agreed that trees need to be planted where possible, even if that meant removing parking spots. 

“That’s where people might have issues, especially in high pressure areas when people want a lot more parking than they can get,” Coyne said.

There is a need for residents to be involved in planning for trees. “It is important that so-called experts do not impose their designs on the people who live and work in the neighbourhood,” Professor of Botany and the Director of Trinity Botanic Gardens, Jennifer McElwain, said. 

For restricted spaces, McElwain recommended a plant architecture called fastigiate, which is tall, slender and has almost parallel branches. However, for streets like Reginald Street where broader plants are already in the ground, removing them may not be the most viable option.

In fact, even planting trees in virgin streets is not as easy as simply digging a hole. Coyne said that Dublin City Council is using a new initiative called the Stockholm Solution, which is a system of “integrating tree roots into the ground and also protecting services that run underneath,” based on the plan by the Swedish city. 

“Think of all the utilities that run under the ground… This is a way to accommodate those services, but also a tree to grow around them as well,” Coyne said. 

Dublin City Council is in the process of widening the pavement on Francis Street as part of their Public Realm Scheme. Expanding paths may cause problems on narrower roads but, if possible, it would allow for additional trees to be planted. 

“If you’re putting a tree there, you don’t want it to block people either, so paths need to be widened in some parts of the city,” Fianna Fail councillor Deirdre Conroy said. 

This would be an ideal solution to cramped pavements, although it’s not always viable. Much as it’s preferable to plant trees directly into the earth, planters provide another solution for implementing greenery in the Liberties. 
While some roads may be too narrow to model off the bold, broader trees of Reginald Street, it is certainly viable to accommodate trees on them, should the correct saplings be chosen and for clean air to be the street’s priority. Just when will we see more narrow streets in the Liberties becoming host to trees?

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