Special Report: Urban Forest

Hamilton Needs to Up its Tree Canopy Game

How many more opportunities are we going to miss before we start taking these essential quality of life issues seriously?

By Jason Leach
Published October 19, 2016

I thought you'd all enjoy this photo I snapped of an autumn John Street looking south toward the escarpment:


Pretty phenomenal, right?

It's actually Montreal.

Our escarpment isn't quite as tall as Mount Royal, but you have to admit we have a lot of similarities to Montreal in other respects. If only we could tie it all together with more infill development, trees, patios, green bumpouts and bike lanes.

Sadly, in Hamilton we butcher urban street trees with metal grates, and we leave blank sidewalk around their trunks instead of adding grasses or plants.

Here's a shot of John looking south from Augusta:

John Street looking south
John Street looking south

I'm not sure why Hamilton is so against developing a great urban tree canopy. Look at the new residential projects that have recently been built downtown: Wilson and Cathcart, Young and Catharine, Catharine and Augusta, Walnut and Augusta - no trees on any of these properties.

Townhouses at Young and Walnut (Image Credit: Ryan McGreal)
Townhouses at Young and Walnut (Image Credit: Ryan McGreal)

The new apartment building on the south side of Main at Caroline actually has a blank ten-foot ribbon of asphalt in front of the building!

These developers should be mandated to plant trees. For that matter, the City should require itself to plant trees. The recent Concession rebuild shows how far behind we are. It should have included large trees planted at regular intervals.

Concession Street reconstructed (RTH file photo)
Concession Street reconstructed (RTH file photo)

Here are a few examples of other cities that take their urban tree canopies seriously:

Paris (RTH file photo)
Paris (RTH file photo)

Stockholm (Image Credit: Walking Stockholm)
Stockholm (Image Credit: Walking Stockholm)

Portland (Image Credit: American Society of Landscape Architects)
Portland (Image Credit: American Society of Landscape Architects)

Portland is an excellent case study in what happens when a city prioritizes its urban canopy over a period of many years:

Street trees in Portland (Image Credit: Bike Portland)
Street trees in Portland (Image Credit: Bike Portland)

Hamilton really needs to get acting on its stated goals regarding health, green city life, vibrant streets and so on. How many more opportunities are we going to miss before we start taking these essential quality of life issues seriously?

Related:

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 08:45:47

Hamilton does have a free tree planting program. If you are a property owner you can ask the city to plant a tree on your lot. We took advantage of this a few years ago for our front yard. There are some restrictions based on setback, power lines etc. https://www.hamilton.ca/home-property-an...

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By RobF (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 08:58:40

Great article. I couldn't agree more. It pains me to look around the North End and realize how few mature trees exist on many streets.

Sadly, the decline of the tree canopy around me reflects the preferences of many of my neighbours. And I quote one of my older neighbours: why would you want a city tree on your front yard? They damage your foundation and underground pipes and make a mess in all our ease troughs each fall.

I put in an apple and cherry tree in the backyard and the grumbling from next door was about the shade it would cast on their vegetable garden ... narrow lots do make sunlight management a little trickier. Things were a little more relaxed when I mentioned I was planting semi-dwarfs that would only grow 12-15 feet high and need to be pruned to allow for light penetration around the fruit-bearing branches to be productive and manage disease, etc.

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By bvbborussia (registered) | Posted October 19, 2016 at 09:52:10

Trees are a big part of adding to street life as well. Nobody wants to spend significant time outside in the summer when there's no shade cover.

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