At the order of the Marietta City Council, staff proposed four different plans to add trees to the public right-of-way along Church Street from Mill Street to Polk Street, just north of the Square. There will be a presentation of the plans and an opportunity for public comment at The Brickyard, 129 Church St., at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Currently, that stretch has as much shade as a New Mexico desert. Temperatures as high as 164 degrees have been recorded on the surfaces of those merchants’ store fronts this summer. In contrast, the faces of buildings on the shady parts of the Square that day were in the 90s. The most telling observation made during that survey was a “Store Closing” sign on a storefront with a temperature of 153 degrees.
What good could come from planting trees in that area? Dr. Kathy Wolf, a professor at the University of Washington, has spent a considerable part of her career studying trees and their impact on the retail shopping environment, including a large research project in downtown Athens, Georgia.
Her published results indicate that the shopping behavior of people is greatly influenced by the sensory environment retailers present. When a customer is given a choice of making a buying decision in a shaded shopping area the shopper is likely to believe that the merchant will have higher quality products and will be better informed about the products. The shopper will stay longer in the shop and is actually willing to pay as much as 10 percent more for an identical product than in a treeless area.
Property owners can attract stable renters and command more rent for their properties when shaded. Improved ambience also leads to higher employee satisfaction and stability. Needless to say, more profitable property owners and merchants will be returning more taxes to the city.
We can expect a well-chosen downtown tree to be alive 50 years from now. In that time, USDA research indicates that one urban tree will generate $30,000 in oxygen, recycle $35,000 of water and remove $60,000 of air pollution. Initially it costs money to plant public trees. They more than pay it back.
Some people with property interests have complained that trees drop leaves on store roofs, causing maintenance headaches. Marietta will work with an arborist to make informed choices about what trees to plant. Properly chosen and maintained trees should offer a pleasant greeting for anyone entering Marietta on this important gateway, shade the front of the buildings during the hottest parts of the day, greatly benefitting whoever is paying the utilities, and do all this without hovering over a single rooftop.
I frequently walk the mile to the Square from my home and I swelter when I leave the well-treed residential neighborhoods and enter this long, blazing block. I know my retail behavior. I am headed directly for the comfort and shade of the Square. Despite having great retailer friends in this block, I am not leisurely window-shopping these Church Street store fronts.
Of great interest to me, one of the optional plans presented to City Council includes widening the sidewalk along the west side of this portion of Church Street. The street is currently wider than necessary for efficient traffic-flow and the sidewalk is narrower than those on the Square. It is so narrow that groups of shoppers or families with strollers have trouble walking it, more so when merchants set out displays or musicians play in front of the stores for events like “First Friday.”
I am looking forward to my city making this street more inviting. I can see us settling at a curbside table for al fresco dining at a new restaurant in this block next year. It could be that different. Let’s make this happen, Marietta.
Jim Morris is a retired Cobb Juvenile Court chief judge and secretary of Marietta Treekeepers, Inc., a nonprofit group that plants trees in the city’s public spaces.