For UVa students, the Corner is the central hub for commerce in Charlottesville. There are popular restaurants, bars, and retail shops all located conveniently near UVa Grounds. It is always bustling with people and makes for a great place to spend an afternoon or evening. The main stretch of the Corner on University Avenue features scattered trees on the sidewalk, while the section on 14th street does not have any.
The trees provide many services for pedestrians, shoppers, and diners on the Corner. First, they provide a temporary escape from the heat for pedestrians. The shade under a tree can be about 2.3 degrees Celsius lower than the temperature in the sun (Simpson, 1998). Secondly, a single tree can absorb 750 gallons of storm water per year (Earth Gauge). Lastly, trees can greatly reduce air pollutants. One tree absorbs 60 pounds of pollutants from the air in one year (Earth Gauge).
The above section of the Corner greatly benefits from having street trees. They provide shade and a psychological sense of separation from both the busy road. On warm days, The Virginian can take advantage of the tree’s benefits and places two tables on the street. The outdoor environment, combined with the possibility of seeing friends passing by makes these tables among the most popular places to eat on the Corner.
This section of the Corner, at the intersection of 14th Street and University Avenue features no trees. Among the eight restaurants between University Avenue and the Wertland and 14th intersection, four restaurants, Boylan Heights, Christian’s Pizza, Two Guys Tacos, and Basil, have outdoor seating. Instead of street tables, though, they all have built structures such as patios or porches to accommodate tables.
The Boylan and Christian’s porch is just a few feet away from an incredibly busy intersection, a railroad bridge, and a coal-fired power plant. I know from experience that when a UTS bus and a train pass this spot simultaneously, you cannot hear the person sitting next to you. Additionally, all of the activity increases the temperature and emits many toxins into the air.
While the trees on the Corner are beneficial, having them can come at a cost. Trees require a good amount of space that could be used otherwise. For example, sidewalks must be extended in order to plant a tree, and that eliminates the space that could be used for parking. Also, they increase risk of property damage as falling limbs could hit cars, buildings, or even people. However, the risk of property damage from trees is still very low and reduced parking motivates people to walk more and keeps the air cleaner.
Overall, trees help both businesses and people on the Corner. They add floor space to restaurants and create a pleasant ambiance for dining outdoors without having to build an additional structure for seating. Additionally, the cooling power of trees can reduce the amount of sun entering a building, lowering the need for air conditioning (Simpson, 1998). The trees on University Avenue create a quasi barrier between the street and sidewalk, creating a cool, clean environment for pedestrians. There are several problems on the corner that trees could help address. Storm water management on the Corner is not great, especially after a snowstorm. The side streets and sidewalks frequently flood and make walking difficult. Additional trees or other vegetation could help absorb storm water, but there is no more space available for more to be planted. Also, to help improve air quality, the city could plant more trees around the power plant. I believe that if more space were available, the city would plant many more trees on the Corner as the most cost-effective way to manage issues with temperature, air quality, and storm water runoff.
Post by Scott Schutte
Simpson, J. R. (1998). Urban Forest Impacts on Regional Cooling and Heating Energy use: Sacramento County Case Study. Journal of Arboriculture 24(4): 201–214.
“National Arbor Day.” Mother Earth News. Earth Gauge, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.