Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Downtown Tree Talk

3/26/14 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“Trees or no trees?” That is the question currently facing Cottage Grove residents regarding refurbishing downtown Main Street. My first response was, “Oh, no! Not again!” I have lived in this area for 25 years and trees on Main Street have always been controversial.

Among other things, the new Main Street Refinement Plan offers a choice of reduced tree plantings or no trees at all in downtown’s future. It’s a strange conundrum for a town that is called “Tree City USA.” A town recognized for excellence in urban forestry management.

Many shopkeepers are averse to the cost, maintenance and mess of trees. I understand that. Customers might even grumble if they pick up a few wet leaves or mud on their shoes. I understand that. But wait a minute. I really don’t get it. This is Oregon and we are green!

 Sure, it costs time and money to water trees in the summer and energy to sweep the sidewalk in front of stores. And no, I don’t like to get my shoes dirty. But are trees really the reason why people don’t shop downtown? Are they hindering access to shops? I don’t think so. Let me play the devil’s advocate and offer another opinion.

The whole purpose of owning a business is to draw customers into your store. In this day and age it takes more than great merchandise, wonderful customer service and easy access to draw people downtown—especially those with vacation dollars in their pocket. It also takes a charming visual package.

Studies have shown that consumers actually enjoy having trees in shopping districts and are more willing to spend money where trees are present. Check out the following website that visually shows the difference between trees and no trees in shopping areas and why people prefer trees. You will be surprised:

Why do trees make a difference? The reason is simple. They provide curb appeal. For many of us, shopping is more than buying. It is about “ambiance.” Cold, sterile and boring doesn’t cut it. I zip in and out of those kinds of shopping areas. No looking around and wondering what’s going on elsewhere. I buy and get out.

On vacation, I bypass the big shopping centers. Instead, I look for a street of charming, tree-lined shops to draw me in their doors.  Whether I’m shopping for fun or necessity, I look for that elusive thing called “character.” What is this place about?

In a town that advertises itself as “Tree City USA,” trees do more than give us bragging rights. Attractive trees are not only eye candy but they foster a sense of community, improve air quality, reduce traffic speeds, and provide shade and wildlife habit (think birds). They’re also a distraction from some of the less desirable aspects of an urban area such as empty buildings or closed shops with ‘flexible’ hours.

In a spirit of fairness I considered whether or not I’m barking up the wrong tree by suggesting we keep the trees. I know that from a sidewalk and street perspective, trees can be trouble. Is there a right tree to be planted in a downtown area in a small sidewalk space, near shops and a busy road? I wasn’t sure.

So I checked out a few websites that led to the conclusion we do have options for practical plantings. If you want to check out what other cities are successfully doing, I suggest the following websites:

The Main St. Refinement Plan contains many ideas and suggestions. They range from removing the crown in the road to wider sidewalks, increased bicycle parking, a “festival square” and more signage. Here’s my take on some of these ideas:

Do we need another gateway arch at the west end of Main St. and delineation of the historic downtown neighborhoods? Not yet. First we need to get some other pieces in place. We need unity and purpose. We need a common theme that says this is our history; this is where we’ve been; this is where we are now and this is where we’re going. We need cohesiveness of design and architecture. Bike racks we’ve got. We need access for disabilities. We need our car doors to stop scraping sidewalks. We need a plan that includes the right trees.

But enough about what I think. What do you think? If you’d like to chime in and say yea or nay on redesigning Main St. check in with city hall for the next public comments opportunity. The entire Main Street Refinement Plan can be seen at the project website:

Cottage Grove has been a Tree City USA for 20 years. Every April, cities across the U.S. celebrate Arbor Day. In Oregon alone, there are 57 Tree City USA Communities. On April 25 at 10 a.m. there will be a tree planting at Bohemia Park. Put it on your calendar and show your support. Let’s keep and celebrate our trees. Speak up! We’ll be healthier and happier if we do. Trust me.

Readers Write
Our town is known for volunteering and showing support for worthy causes. I always appreciate input on volunteering and other story items. Recently, I received this note:

Hi, Betty,
"Did you know that the Veterans put the flags downtown the 11th of each month to honor all Veterans? Paul Tuco Aka at Buster’s was the motivating force behind this great idea and gives them a free lunch on that day. Thought it might be a good story. From S.D."

Thank you volunteers! You all make this world a better place.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.