Riverfront Park in Spokane has great trees.


That was a hell of a windstorm back in November. Gathering reports from various local news outlets, it’s estimated that the City of Spokane lost between 1,200 and 1,600 mature trees due to the storm. We also learned that the natural root structure of the Blue Spruce is shallow, over irrigating Ponderosa Pines makes them weaker, and the basalt formations of the South Hill don’t lend themselves well to burying power lines. (On this last point, however, it’s nothing a little creativity can’t solve.)

Independent of the storm, one of Spokane’s best characteristics is the city’s tree canopy. Indeed, the South Hill isn’t the South Hill without its innumerable tree-lined streets, not to mention all the true boulevards.

21st and Bernard in Spokane
Those are some fine street-trees on 21st Avenue just off Bernard on the South Hill.

On the other side of the river, near north-side development patterns mimic the South Hill’s. However, where once West Central, Emerson-Garfield, and Logan’s neighborhood canopies were far more consistent with the South Hill’s, time and neglect have reduced them to a point where replanting would cure what ails them.

Just a little further north, Audubon neighborhood is just that, and Corbin Park is brimming with trees. Once we’re north of about Garland/Empire, however, the neighborhood development patterns shift into classic post World War II bungalows and ranchers. The street grid holds up well but detached sidewalks are the exception rather than the norm, and there are far less street trees to be found. Not that there aren’t plenty of trees, mind you, it’s just they were planted randomly by property owners or they were there to begin with.

All bets are off north of Francis. At this point you’re lucky to find a sidewalk, much less a detached one with street trees.

Allan Jacobs’ seminal book Great Streets identifies eight foundational principles that create great streets (and note you must have all of them together; we can’t mix and match). Interestingly, street trees are not one of Jacob’s eight principles. As much as I love Jacobs’ book, we part ways on this one.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. Jaime Lerner wrote a book that sits alongside Great Streets in the canon of urban classics, it’s called Urban Acupuncture. The term Lerner uses is “arborescence,” and there’s hardly a better way to put it. Trees change everything: the feel, the look, the atmosphere, and the comfort level of a neighborhood, street, or block face. As Lerner describes it: “Trees are acupuncture that ease the pain caused by the absence of shade, life, color, and light.” How I would love to have a beer or two with Jacobs and Lerner just to discuss the relationship between trees and streets.

Las Vegas Street Trees
Trees work wonders even on the hungover, sun-scorched Vegas Strip.

I think Jeff Speck would agree with Lerner’s perspective. In Walkability, Speck outlines a 10-step plan to achieve just that. Step 8 is “Plant Trees.” We all know Jeff Speck because he co-wrote Suburban Nation and is widely considered amongst the nation’s foremost smart growth practitioners. Setting aside the smart growth perspective, Speck describes his perception of rich and poor neighborhoods in Little Havana (Miami) being caused simply by a lack of trees. Indeed, trees drive consumer desirability. It’s well cited in real estate circles the value trees add to a property or even being on a tree-lined street.

East Sprague, Spokane
The barren desert of east Sprague Ave., which has just as much potential as it needs beautification. Hopefully a great canopy of street trees is in the plan.

The City of Spokane, primarily in their quest to reduce and purify storm water runoff into the Spokane River, began a tree planting campaign in 2014 that aims to plant 10,000 new urban trees. Couch it however you will – storm water remediation, quality of life, urban heat island mitigation, beautification, carbon sinks, neighborhood development – the “Forest Spokane” initiative is one of the city’s best.

Who could argue against free trees? This is what cities do. Rather, this is what cities did in an era when neighborhoods like the South Hill and Browne’s Addition were created. Trees are fundamental in so many ways to maintain the stability and desirability of neighborhoods, both residential and commercial.

About every spring, the City of Spokane gives away free trees. Perhaps you can find a good spot, maybe even next to the street, to plant one? If you need a hand, drop me a line, I’ll be happy to help.

Here’s the information on the city’s tree program, which provides everything from what species will work best for your needs to planting and care.

Primary webpage: https://my.spokanecity.org/neighborhoods/programs/forest-spokane/

The official Forest Spokane plan, by Alicia Powell: https://static.spokanecity.org/documents/neighborhoods/programs/forestspokane/forest-spokane-plan.pdf