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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Tree pit liberation

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In the middle of the summer, at the corner of Oxford and Spadina (on the east side of Kensington Market) the community group Streets Are For People (SAFP) initiated a community intervention, without the City's permission, to improve the appearance of the intersection and the health of some dehydrated (and possibly dying) trees.

The team of volunteers from SAFP lifted the cement blocks that were covering the base of the five street trees. These covers are meant to protect the tree's root system from exposure to road salt and pedestrian traffic. Instead, the cement is far more destructive — the holes drilled into the blocks that are meant to funnel water into the soil are easily blocked by leaves and litter, thus denying a fair amount of rainwater from reaching the tree's root system.

SAFP chose not to throw away the cement covers and instead converted them into benches by placing them on top of donated cinder blocks. The blocks were adhered together with cement, making them as solid as any City-installed bench.

The trees provide shade while the new seats offer a resting place for the heavy pedestrian traffic found on Spadina in Chinatown. Residents of the building that faces this corner watered the tree pits (adorned with flowers) throughout the summer.

But within a week of the intervention, the City visited the site and placed orange pylons in front of the makeshift benches, indicating that the benches were unsafe to use. Within two weeks, the benches tops were removed, but the cinder blocks remained, oddly creating a much greater pedestrian hazard than the original benches.

It should be noted that the work at this intersection didn't go unnoticed: NOW Magazine named the tree pit liberation the Best Activist Campaign of 2007, saying, "These tiny acts of guerrilla streetscaping are giving our otherwise neglected street trees a chance to survive