Paris is hailed as a walkable city, as is Philadelphia. What makes a city walkable are sidewalks, clearly marked areas for pedestrians to cross streets and plenty of traffic lights and directional signs. Where Paris excels and Philadelphia does not is shade trees.
When Louis XIV focused on making the city beautiful, he and his advisors created the long, wide boulevards for strolling and being seen. Once Louis XIV had the medieval city walls torn down, he ordered the long majestic boulevards such as the Champs-Elysées laid out in 1667. These long walking promenades were lined with shade trees and magnificent residences.
The street trees in Paris all have their lower branches removed up to a height of about twelve feet. This allows pedestrians to walk in the shade without having to duck low hanging tree limbs. And you don’t really notice the trees, you are enjoying walking in cooling shade. These pruned street trees were mostly along the wide boulevards. Many of the small, close ancient streets don’t have room to plant trees.
The trees are cleared of their lower branches to allow shop windows and signs to be clearly seen. The shade made a tremendous difference in being comfortable window shopping and ducking into shops.
When I was growing up in Philadelphia, we kids played outside all summer, from morning to dusk, with breaks for lunch and dinner. Why did we stay outside so long? Because the entire neighborhood was shaded with towering Eastern Sycamores and white and red oaks. We played in the shade all day. We walked and biked all over our part of town, largely due to the coolness of shade.
A couple of years ago, I asked a ten-year old Philadelphia boy why he didn’t like to play outside. He said, “because the sun is everywhere and the air conditioning is inside”. We adults need to plants shade trees so children want to play outside. When I was a child the thought of staying inside under air conditioning all summer long would have just about killed us.
Many Philadelphia residents say they don’t want trees because they don’t want to sweep up leaves. Or they think trees are dangerous to have in cities perhaps the trees will fall down in a storm. Choosing the right tree for the right spot can help. Trees clean and cool the air. Trees provide many benefits.
The City of Philadelphia has a street and yard tree program called, TreePhilly.org. Tree Philly gives away free native trees to city residents. Perhaps, in the near future Philadelphia wil have abundance of shaded streets and boulevards like Paris.