- Monday, 03 April 2017
- Written by Meg Turner | Capital Trees | Trees Virginia, Garden Club Board Seat
In 2011, the City of Richmond and Capital Trees formed a public/private partnership and transformed a city gateway paved in concrete into an inviting green passageway that cools the urban core, cleans the urban air, and reduces pollutants from the stormwater flowing into the James River.
Capital Trees was born when four Richmond area garden clubs assembled a team in 2009 to study the environmental benefits of urban landscapes and identify areas in which the clubs could enhance Richmond’s urban environment. Noting the site’s barren landscape and steep slope toward the river, Capital Trees and city officials selected the 14th Street corridor as a pilot project for collaboration in 2010. The area is a center of local and state government, tourism and entertainment and serves as a primary route for pedestrians and vehicles.
Phase I enhancements, from Main Street to Bank Street, were completed in the fall of 2011. Contractors hauled away tons of concrete from the median and the east and west passageways. Dead and dying street trees were removed from inadequately sized tree wells. On the east side of the block, contractors installed bio-retention planters bound by root barrier walls to capture stormwater runoff that previously flowed down the street and into the city’s combined sewer outfalls. The tree planters now serve as detention and treatment facilities, removing phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment prior to release. The west and median tree wells were expanded and Swamp White Oaks (Quercus bicolor) and Ginkgos (Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’) now line both sides of the street and the median, forming a beautiful double allee. The bio-retention planters, filled with a mix of 85% sand, 10% soil and 5% leaf compost, are under-planted with native Blue Flag Iris (Iris versiclolor) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).
In the recently completed second phase, from Bank Street north to Broad Street, London Plane Trees (Platanus x acerifolia) were planted in expanded tree wells with structured soils along the west side. A continuous planting of Ginkgoes has replaced the monolithic concrete median, visually tying the two blocks together. Low-impact development storm water facilities, similar to the Phase I planters, run along the eastern curb line.
Pedestrian lighting, improved sidewalks and educational signage completed the transformation of upper 14th Street. In addition to the tremendous aesthetic impact the plantings have had, the storm water facilities are providing much needed reduction in phosphorous loads (25-35%) and peak flow runoff (50%) to Richmond’s combined sewer outfalls.
The success of the 14th Street project fostered a successful partnership between the city and Capital Trees, and has led to additional collaborations, including the renovation of Great Shiplock Park and the recently completed Low Line Gardens along the James River And Kanawha Canal and the Virginia Capital Trail in Shockoe Bottom. Capital Trees is now an independent 501(c)3 organization, with continuing support from the garden clubs, but also representation by leaders in Richmond’s civic, environmental, corporate, and creative communities. Capital Trees continues to work with city officials, local environmental groups, and corporate and private donors to envision, fund and implement projects that enhance the aesthetic and environmental health of Richmond.