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Urban Kvetching: Trees

Sixth Street, 1950, Palm-free
[Photo Credit: SOMPAC]

Who knew? Palm trees are not native to San Francisco, and while the city has gone on a palm-planting rampage, social activists, purists, and lovers of romantic dappled shade disapprove. The merits, or lack thereof, of these foreign invaders aside, we thought we'd hand out awards for Urban Kvetching based solely on quotes in the Chronicle.

The Staggeringly Uncharitable Award:
"Palm trees are associated with upscale places like Miami Beach," said Randy Shaw of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic... on Sixth Street, people are so poor and they have all these needs. Putting up palm trees sends the wrong message." Presumably, Randy prefers the occupants of our classic urban hardscape (cement, broken glass, body fluids) to suffer greenery-free.

Head in the Well-prepared Hole Award:
"Large, leafy canopy trees give the most benefits. But if you go to Sixth Street, you'll see the new palms are nothing but poles with very little greenery." says Carolyn Blair, founder of the San Francisco Tree Council. Except, Carol, the sidewalks on Sixth Street are about two yards wide, just the place for your leafy canopies. Those Live Oaks you hug grow to diameters of 25 feet. Although, granted, you drive down Sixth Street and the placement is random and spotty.

All-around Bitch Honorable Mention:
Arborist Tony Wolcott: "...palms don't take up a lot of rainfall or give you much shade. Particularly the Mexican fan palm -- they have a small leaf surface, so they provide next to nothing as far as benefits to the environment." They can however, provide a decorative enfilade that follows urban sightlines. No raking in November. And looking upwards at palms distracts one from what's transpiring on the sidewalk.

And noting Tony's concerns about the environment, palms at least provide the benefit of being alternately male and female instead of being male or female. So perfect for the Tenderloin, but we're talking pollen here, not trannies. Urban arborists have for decades chosen male trees because they're less "messy" than female trees but instead contribute substantially to urban allergies and respiratory problems. From a brilliant and previously unknown (to us) blog, the perfectly named Pruned.

[Instant Update: The Chronicle seems to have gone jumbo on the unfortunate quotes: the one we missed.]

· Palms Pop Up [SF Chronicle]
· Litter-free Landscapes and the Politics of Pollen [Pruned]
· A Most Unfortunate Quote [Socketsite]