What We’re Reading: Why We Love Trees by SLA

We recently came across this fantastic little online booklet produced by the wonderful people over at SLA, a Copenhagen and Oslo based design company that works specifically in the fields of landscape architecture, urban design and city planning. With eye-catching illustrations and beautiful design, this booklet makes for a lovely read but if you don’t have time to check out the publication for yourself, don’t worry, we’re about to catch you up and fill you in on the details!

The book begins with expressing the founding philosophy of SLA, that cities are created ‘first and foremost for people’ and that ‘people need nature’. (p. 3) This is where trees come in. According to SLA, ‘Trees are the core element in urban spaces. Trees offer sensuous experiences and play a significant role in people’s ability to learn, live and socialize.’ (p. 3)

They go on to list some important reasons as to why exactly trees are essential to people. Some which we are familiar with, like the fact that trees have helped to reduce crime in certain neighborhoods. Green areas encourage people to get outside and develop a sense of community, discouraging criminal activity, they call it a ‘natural form of neighborhood watch’. (p. 11) We know that offices that have a view of trees tend to increase efficiency, and they remind us that treeified shopping areas show significantly more sales. We’ve spoken before about how hospitals with green views and areas have proven to have patients with a faster recovery rate, but this book reminds us that being with trees or exploring forests is also good for your general health and lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and has helped children suffering from ADHD enormously.

Other reasons they list aren’t exactly relevant to our current situation in the Western Cape. Like the fact that trees reduce risks of flooding by reducing pressure on sewers to catch water, since the leaves of trees hold water for 15 to 20 minutes before hitting the ground. However, as we’re sure you know, risks of flooding and cloudbursts are not exactly a problem for us right now, quite the opposite in fact! On the other hand, they remind us of the remarkable cooling power of trees and the ways in which trees lower temperatures in urban spaces – something we really need here in the south! Trees have been known to reduce electricity costs by up to 25%.

Another particularly relevant point for us in the Western Cape, especially in the windy city of Cape Town, is that of dealing with the strong air currents and wind tunnels created by long straight streets lined with buildings. Trees break the wind and can create shelters and microclimates, a much-needed feature for certain areas in the city centre.

They also point out that through the natural process of Phytoremediation, trees neutralize and stabilize polluted soil and cite an example of this process happening on a large-scale level in the town of Enköping in Sweden whereby willow trees are used to clean the waste-water. They mention the potential for trees to aid us in combating global warming and climate change by reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. Not only do trees help combat soil contamination, but they also play a vital role against air pollution.

They mention the possibility and potential for fruit trees in urban spaces to provide nourishment and food for city dwellers. By choosing the right trees for an urban environment, maintenance does not have to be a problem, rather the decomposition of fallen leaves will contribute to enriching soil, attracting insects and improving the biodiversity of an area. They also list the various useful byproducts made by trees and medicinal properties that certain trees have.

The book concludes with a description of one of their projects in the city of Bagsværd, just north of Copenhagen. SLA designed the headquarters of the global healthcare company, Novo Nordsik, a building that has manifested in the form of a nature park. This is the first park in Scandinavia with a 100% water balance whereby ‘all the rainwater that falls in the area and on the buildings is collected and used for irrigation’ and never needing to rely on sewers. The park was built on the founding idea that best ideas arrive outside and they add that ‘modern research has shown that people become more informal, more relaxed and more creatively open-minded when they are outside’.

Finally, the last pages of the book share a very useful and expansive bibliography of resources – a fabulous reading list that will prove useful for anyone who is interested in trees, the environment, health, urban planning and of course, landscape architecture. Publications like this are constantly inspiring and certainly add to our mission of treeification today!

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