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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mercer Street, You Could Be Cooler

SoHo presents problems for urban ecologists, but a little goes a little way, and there’s a long way to go.

imageChic shops along Mercer St., NYC, opt for signage and display-windows over greenery

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

Mercer Street, SoHo (south of Houston) is one of New York City’s cool streets but not because of its shade trees.  In fact, there are only three street trees on Mercer.  The street’s cool factor derives from the many boutique shops – Prada, Curve (pictured, left), Kate Spade, Rag & Bone, UGG among others – along its six-block length between Houston and Canal Streets (there are six additional blocks north of Houston).

Why, might you ask, are there only three trees on this street, in a city well known for its MillionTreesNYC urban forest expansion initiative?  One reason might be cultural/commercial.  Trees can block historic building facades and hip signage, thus reducing shop visibility.  Preference survey research conducted by Kathleen L. Wolf has found that “merchants have less appreciation for trees than the people they wish to welcome to their shops.”  Wolf also observed that “consumers respond positively to shopping environments having a healthy urban forest.”  However, the lack of tree canopy on Mercer has not hampered shoppers! 

Wolf’s town of Seattle recommends trees as “good for business and the environment.” Seattle’s Office of Economic Development has made its position clear:

Trees provide enormous environmental and economic benefits. Recent research conducted by the University of Washington indicates that districts with street trees attract more shoppers, who are willing to pay as much as 11% more for products. The City encourages street trees and community-initiated tree plantings and offers many resources. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) offers information, expertise and other resources to help business districts plant and maintain trees. Investing in trees can bring the following returns:

• Increase in property values—especially full-grown healthy trees.

• Increase in the number of shoppers, and increase in perceived product value and customer service in a business district.

• Trees help mitigate air pollution, slow storm water runoff and save energy by shading buildings in summer and letting in light in the winter.

• Trees and greenery are psychologically and aesthetically pleasing.

Another reason for the lack of trees along Mercer is that trees in the SoHo district are considered, by some, to be “historical inaccurate.”  The New York Times reported that in 1994, the Landmarks Preservation Commission “rejected the planting of trees, saying they would mar the historical integrity of the Cast Iron District.”

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Posted by Julie on 07/17 at 04:00 PM
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