Jenna Blackwood | Landscape architects are critical in urban planning
On Sunday, April 9, 2023, an article submitted by Architect and Town Planner Neil Richards was published where he asked the question, “What’s the future character of Lady Musgrave Road?” He mentioned that the Landscape Architect (LA) on the project would be responsible for contributing to the final character of the roadway by deciding which natural features should remain and designing the final features of planting and site furniture, among others.
However, to my knowledge no LA has participated in the design and planning of the project. The local LA fraternity is just as curious as the general public to find out how thousands of trees will be accommodated along the corridors of Lady Musgrave and East King’s House roads.
Some queries include:
1. Who is the planting designer for the project?
To my knowledge, there is no LA or other landscape design professional employed to any government agency. TPDCo used to have a LA on staff and the UDC used to have an entire Landscape Department led by an LA when they developed the beautiful and successful tree-planting programmes along Tom Redcam Drive and Mandela Highway in the 1980s.
Planting design for agriculture and forestry have different objectives from planting for urban design in public spaces. Many of our government agencies (e.g., Forestry Department, NWA, UDC, TPDCo, NEPA, NHT) would benefit from having close relationships with LAs even if they are not on staff, not only for planting design, but for the broader perspective of Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) measures to combat climate change of which tree planting is one.
2. What is the classification of a tree that is being used?
In landscape practice, trees are generally classified according to height as small (4.5-6m/15-20 feet), medium (9-12m/30-40 feet) and large (12m/40 feet and above). It is therefore important to select the correct size tree to be used along the urban corridors where space is often limited and there is conflict with site furniture and utilities.
3. How far apart are these trees to be planted?
In landscape practice, the LA tries to space the trees so that they can attain their mature size, or close to it, which is when the benefits of carbon sequestration, stormwater management, habitat generation and cooling are best achieved.
It is not practical to space the trees too closely as this will lead to unhealthy growth forms and increased maintenance to keep the tree at an unnatural size. If trees are planted on private properties, then will the trees be positioned to maintain usable activity spaces or will the entire property be covered, which is impractical?
4. What tree species will be used?
Some tree species have destructive roots that will damage the surrounding paving or contain irritating substances that can affect passers-by or are not easily managed by pruning, among other problems. There are tree species that are better suited to use in confined environments due to their mature size or growth habits.
It is often better to plant a variety of tree species than a monoculture to support a diversity of animal species and also to protect against the entire stand being affected if there is an outbreak of disease or pests. In some instances, it might be better to plant a large shrub that can be trained into a tree form instead of planting a tree that will cause problems in the long term.
5. What maintenance strategies will be used to ensure longevity of the plant materials?
Trees are most beautiful and productive when they are healthy and allowed to maintain their natural size and shape and many flowering trees bloom on the tips. Improper pruning damages the tree form and integrity, leaving it susceptible to insects and disease.
Constant pruning also removes the ends where blooms occur. Tree pruning practices in Jamaica are atrocious with the plant being constantly hacked to keep it at an unnatural shape and size. However, trees need to be pruned to remove diseased sections, for public safety, and to thin them to allow wind to pass through during storm events. There have been several road improvement projects with planting components over the past few years but there are very few remaining trees and other plants as a result of poor or no maintenance.
Proper maintenance also includes inspections for pests and disease and follow-up treatment as well as watering and fertilising, if necessary. Therefore, is a maintenance programme being prepared for the trees along Lady Musgrave and East King’s House roads, and is there a cadre of trained professionals to do the maintenance?
The local LAs are willing to review the plans if they are available and provide comments to ensure that accepted landscape design practices are included in the project, and are also willing to assist with developing a maintenance programme to enhance longevity of the project and ensure that the money spent on planting is not wasted.
Jenna Blackwood, PhD, is a practising Landscape Architect, former adjunct lecturer at the Caribbean School of Architecture and president of the Central American & Caribbean Association of Landscape Architects (APAC). Email feedback to [email protected]