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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Emeryville: Land Of Palm Trees

All Pedestrians See Are Bare Trunks
Why So Many Palm Trees?

Work crews are finally preparing to take down the power line poles from the new plaza near the railroad tracks at the foot of Park Avenue as part of the Park Avenue improvement plan.  The poles will be removed so that six large palm trees can be planted.   Strangely, those trees will be planted even though the citizen's committee charged with co-designing the plaza several years ago specifically said "no" to palm trees there.
It's not only the committee that objects to palm trees.  Councilwoman Ruth Atkin likes deciduous leafy trees and she has railed against the plethora of palm trees planted in Emeryville, calling them "ugly", yet we still seem to get palms planted everywhere here.
Why palm trees?   Because, as it turns out, some nameless, faceless bureaucrat from 100 years ago thought two palms would look nice in front of City Hall, so now Emeryville must  live with palm trees everywhere.

A healthy mature palm
At the Park Avenue plaza, the new palms will create a "unified and homogeneous street-scape"; at least that's what the city planners with masters degrees tell us.  City Hall, up the street has palm trees in front, so in order to tie Park Avenue together in a Big Lebowski oriental rug sort of way, we must also have palm trees in the plaza.

Indeed even the palm trees at City Hall are brought to us by the palm trees at City Hall.  Because of the now unknown designer in 1903 that planted the two large palms in front of the original building, the architect who designed the building's addition in 2000 insisted we must have more palms around the building to achieve proper "contextualization" (see Tattler story January 2nd).
The existence of the palms at city hall, iconic in their auspicious placement, have been used to justify palms all over town from Pixar across Park Avenue to the Public Market on Shellmound Street.

Our fate seems to be sealed because like it or not, a critical mass seems to have been reached and palm trees are now seen by architects and city planners as emblematic of Emeryville.  This vision is so strong for them that they over-turned a democratic vote by citizens on the Park Avenue Committee to not plant palms in the plaza.  The irony of the ugly bare power poles there being replaced by palms is probably lost on them.

So it looks like we're going to be seeing a lot of bare trunks and not a lot of leaves in Emeryville unless someone without a masters degree in city planning can shout loud enough that the emperor has no clothes.

The one on the right is healthier


  1. Why the fuss? Everyone likes palm trees, Walter!

  2. I think the real reason for palm trees is cost.
    They are cheap to maintain.
    They wouldn't be so bad if The Bay Area was a tropical location.

  3. SHAFT! with an eruption outward

  4. They attract rats, perfect rat homes, and most of the local birds do not use them as habitats--ugly and not part of our natural diversity.

  5. i thought palm trees cost at least $2,500. They are also VERY expensive to maintain.

  6. Maybe they should have saved the money from undergrounding the utilities and just strung the telephone and electrical wires from the palm trees. Or saved even more by putting fake palm fronds way up on the telephone poles. That would've looked nifty.

  7. Just stumbled upon this blog, but as an Emeryville resident, I have to say that there are very good reasons for planting palms in urban environments that support them: (1) low maintenance - think of how much leaf debris would be shed from all those additional deciduous trees, and how much it would cost tree crews to prune the branch structures annually; (2) low water requirements, provided they use palm species from dry climates (which they do), (3) contained root masses - only limited plant varieties don't spread roots into sidewalks, so to avoid the costly buckling and replacement of sidewalks, certain plant species are good because they have shallow, small, or soft roots. Palms are included in this, so they need very little room to grow; (4) easy to grow -- palms from dry climates thrive on neglect, so they need very little water, and they tend not to be susceptible to many diseases (with the exception of the Canary Island Palm that has been getting fusarium wilt throughout coastal California because landscape crews are spreading it with their tools. But most of Emeryville's palms are not Canary Island Palms and are not threatened). They are quite expensive to plant, as mentioned above, but after that they are VERY cheap, not expensive, to maintain.

    Personally, I don't understand people who hate palm trees. I mean, we're in California, and they've been grown here since the Victorian era so I consider them part of the local landscape design. Of course they're not native, but in our urban environment, what is? Pretty much nothing. In fact, we don't really have leafy, deciduous street trees that are native either. IMO, good urban landscape design would include different types of plants for different situations. I agree that Emeryville is starting to have perhaps too many palm trees, but in commercial or shopping areas, they're really appropriate. In residential areas and parks, leafy trees are nicer. And some of those leafy trees should be evergreen too, not just deciduous. Having a mix of plants year-round offers a pleasant and varied environment for people who come here. But there's no reason to hate all palm trees when they have appropriate uses; plus, there are many low-growing palm trees that are very nice too!

    1. Palm trees use less water than some deciduous trees and don't break up concrete, it's true. But just think how much more water we could save with fake trees. And they, too wouldn't break up the concrete. They would be much less maintenance than palms. How about Emeryville: land of fake trees?