The base of tree, often referred to as a tree pit, is one of the small details of urban design that I have a strong fascination with.
Here in Toronto, we’ve seen a spike in the attention tree pits have received from residents and BIAs. Last summer at the corner of Spadina and Oxford, just east of Kensington Market, local merchants and residents removed the cement casings that are often found on top of the base of a tree. These cement “coffins” keep much needed water from seeping into the ground. These liberated tree pits changed the appearance and functionality of the corner in a dramatic way.
Further south on Spadina near King West, tree pits were renovated this summer (see photo above). The cement casings were removed. Soil to protect the roots were added, as were black cast-iron railings to keep pedestrians from walking on the root systems. These new features maybe the most attractive additions I’ve seen to a tree pit in Toronto.
The tree pit seen above is on King West near Bathurst. This style of treatment is becoming more commonly used in Toronto: rock pebbles are placed at the base instead of soil, which is just as effective for protection and permeability. What I don’t like is the hanging chain and gold-plated knobs — its just plain tacky. Instead of using an attractive barrier (like the image at the top of the post) that hides it’s function, this version gives a pedestrian a fenced-off security feel.
The same tree pit approach is used on Spadina just north of Queen (and just outside Spacing’s office). But the difference is huge: plants have been placed to grow up and around the barriers, lessening the fenced-off feeling I mentioned above. The poles and chains now serve a better purpose by doubling as a place to lock a bike.
On Queen just west of Bathurst, tree pits have also been liberated and turned into small, playful gardens (photos above and below). Cement stones and wood fences are used to indicate the tree pit boundary in an attractive and charming way.
On St. George Street at U of T’s campus, streetside trees are usually placed in patches of grass. But there are a few tree pits like the one shown above. Sadly, this photo was taken in June — while all the other trees were in full bloom, this row of four trees were dehydrated and losing leaves. The small space at the base seems to be hindering the ability of these trees to be properly nourished.
Below are a handful of other tree pits I’ve seen in my recent travels.
Des Moines, Iowa
Albequerque, Nw Mexico