Think we are Greening the Greensward -Think Again -Urban Reforestation and Streetscape on a Nearly Unimaginable Scale

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Think we are Greening the Greensward -Think Again -Urban Reforestation and Streetscape on a Nearly Unimaginable Scale

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     This is about  two urban reforestation and streetscape projects in China that are borderline absurd on their scale and scope, not to mention the amazing amount of money spent to carry them out. Should we have some envy or outright disgust at such projects ? That is one suggested sub-heading of debate this discussion is intended to have.


    Here are the two articles:




    I won’t even begin to profile or paraphrase them here. Both are fascinating and I encourage you to spend the few minutes it takes to read them and really ponder them from these suggested reference points:


    • I am not aware of any urban reforestation or streetscape effort in the United States that even approaches anything close to these projects, no matter how ridiculous they seem.
    • My first inclination was to be incredibly envious of the scale and substance of such projects. I dialed that back after the blowback in the Quingdao article where ordinary people questioned and dissented on what they perceived as money poorly spent when there are far more important public priorities to attend to in China, like health care, better schools, affordable housing and the list goes on… you see any familiar set of concerns here that we might share ?
    • I have seen some absolutely extraordinary streetscapes in China on the hyper-level of expressway, our version is the freeway. Most memorable is deep and detailed plantings that go on for miles on ones approach to the Pudong Airport in Shanghai. I have never, ever seen anything that comes close in the good ole’ USA. We are talking planting design taken to the artistic and elite level and meticulously maintained.


    Jason T. Radice

    We are kind of having the same discussion in the US Congress right now with the transportation bill. There are a lot of ‘questionable’ projects that have a poor track record of sucess. ASLA is trying to get as much money as possible for things like streetscape renovations and bike lanes, which would help a few (the last round of transport spending really didn’t help much at all, as states put the kibosh on that type of spending in place of simple repaving). But many in Congress want to target the spending to the most needed projects such as fixing failing bridges and projects with true infrastructure benefit, not icing or aesthetics. Having seen many of these projects installed myself, they are truely a waste of tax money that can be used for larger projects with a greater benefit on the economy and jobs.

    Tosh K

    Considering the air quality/respiratory health issues over there, some of the efforts are understandable, so long as it isn’t designed solely as an aesthetic.  The attempt west of Beijing to reforest in an effort to stave off the desertification also is a fascinating one – anyone know how it’s holding up?

    In some sense, the projects under FDR may qualify in scale – and some of the CCC’s work with invasives I think are also under the “large regional scale” environmental projects.  I’d also suggest that while incremental, both NYC and DC have large scale street tree planning initiatives (albeit less “designed”).

    To me, due to our climate in the midwest and much of the eastern regions, the “reforestation” seems to take hold simply with the withdrawal of human interventions – though often with more aggressive invasive species.  Rather than spend the money on “beautification” projects, taking initiative to have the landscapes in the right-of-ways to be productive in some sense would be helpful (the mowing, tree trimming costs might be offset with some sort of benefit).  Encouraging the culling down of deer herds would be a good start in restoring the health of forested areas on the east coast…


    The choice of a monoculture of Gingko reminds me of the over-use of the American Elm in this country and how that fostered the spread of Dutch Elm Disease.  Apparently that lesson has been lost, or just not understood and heeded by mayors with delusions of grandeur.

    The US has done such large-scale plantings in the past.  Remember the Dust Bowl?  Well, not in person, but from your history classes?  After that large-scale soil relocation, the CCC planted a wide band of trees as a kind of shelter belt that was supposed to extend from the Canadian border down to Texas.  Not sure how far they got though.

    Daniel Jackson

    I applaud the two planting initiatives in principle, however, both the planting of a monoculture and the removal of native species for exotics is dumbfounded. As for the argument against the mass expenditures on such an undertaking in favour of spending the funds on necessities such as healthcare, I feel that if more healthy cities were planned in the first space, we could be dealing with smaller healthcare costs today. Greater green coverage, bike lanes, etc. could end up benefiting the cities of Chongqing and Qingdao, it’s just that these results are less tangible than hospitals and schools. I find these types of projects are only achievable in places like China with a centralized government. In democracies, politicians are too concerned with reelection that they will always choose the projects which will garner the most votes. Sadly, these means many of the projects in our realm will fall to the wayside. However bizarre it may be to plant $1 billion worth of gingko trees because it’s the favourite species of a politician, it’s refreshing to see a landscape project get implemented on such a scale. I wish this type of project could be realized in other countries as I feel the benefits will go far beyond simply aesthetics.   

    Tosh K

    i’m told that’s where all the multiflora roses come from… hardy, easy to establish hedgerow planting…




    I just read the NYT article that summed up the passage of the transportation bill. Looks like roadside (whatever kind of road) beautification and more bike lanes and pedestrian pathways lost out to the automobile, again. I read your reply and am not sure how to really interpret it. Do you mean that “fixing failing bridges and other projects with true infrastructure benefit” are what you think are not “truely a waste of tax money” or are a waste of that ?

    Anyway, the article is really insightful and mostly fair to both sides of the political spectrum and hailed as a true indication that Congress can still work in a bi-partisan manner to benefit the American people and so on and so forth……. Just in time for the kickoff of the tough, rigorous and mostly offensive ( on our sensiblities) closing quarter of the election season. Need I say more.

    It does look like the Land and Water Conservation Fund got a small cash injection, after being supremely underfunded year after year.



    Thank you for following this and bringing it to our attention

    mark foster

    Don’t forget Osage Orange trees.  What a truly odd plant.  I love the early fall when the fruit falls like civil war cannonballs.

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