Don’t fight traffic noise – hide it25th Nov 2020
A few days ago, when I was walking in Cecelia Forest – one of my regular haunts – I noticed a stream that had not been there previously. Or, at least, I thought I did. I’d walked around a corner and, yes – there it was – I could hear a stream. But I knew there wasn’t one there, so I stopped and thought.
And that’s when I realised that there was a bit of a southeaster blowing, it was about five in the evening when everyone was heading home along Rhodes Drive, and I was at a point where the path is very close to the road. Yes, it was the sound of the traffic I’d heard. And that reminded me of a really cool trip I took a few years back.
Central Park and the cross streets
I love New York and, on my second-to-last visit there, I discovered probably the best way to explore the city – by bicycle. I joined a bike tour of Central Park and Harlem, and – for the first time – really got to understand the iconic chunk of green space in the centre of the city. And, yes, we Capetonians have the TMNP, of which Cecelia is a part, but we can’t take credit for designing it. Central Park is a masterpiece of landscaping on a big scale. It’s about 315 hectares of possibly some of the most potentially expensive real estate in the world, and it’s given over to the single function of providing city dwellers with safe, attractive open space.
The designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, had to contend with the fact that the park had to carry cross-town traffic, which they limited to four cross streets – 66th, 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets. This was all explained to me by Bruce – the person leading the tour. We cycled along some lovely paths, and then he stopped.
‘Listen,’ he said. We did.
‘What do you hear?’ he asked.
‘A stream,’ I replied.
He smiled. That was Olmsted and Vaux’s genius. They had lowered the level of the cross streets, and planted lots of trees along them so that, when you are in the park, the cross-town traffic sounds like a stream.
Just one more reason to plant trees
As if there weren’t already so many good reasons to plant trees – like carbon sequestration, biodiversity, shade, scenery, a home for birds, and even the opportunity for forest bathing – here’s one more. You can’t avoid roads in estates but, if you can auditorily ‘hide’ them behind the white noise of forested mini ravines, your estate will be a quieter, calmer, happier place. And, if you have a busy highway going past your (existing or planned) estate, planting a mini forest alongside it will benefit both your residents and road users, who get to look at some pretty trees – and perhaps even a bird or two – while they are sitting in traffic.
All trees are equal, but some trees are more equal than others
To decimate George Orwell’s classic quote about equity, not all trees are equal. And I think here specifically of plantations vs forests. Indigenous forests are ancient networks of plants, animals and micro-organisms that have evolved over centuries into a stable, interconnected, mutually beneficial community that contributes positively to human lives, carbon sequestration and soil preservation. Plantations, on the other hand, are artificial, regimented troops of individual trees that grow, live and die over the period of not much more than a decade, and contribute to very little other than the financial bottom line of forestry companies. Granted – they also provide timber for construction and furniture and paper, so we do need plantations. And, yes, walking in a plantation on a hot, sunny day is pleasantly cool. Plantations are not bad, they are just – to stretch the Orwellian metaphor – ‘less good’.
So, the bottom line as developers is to do everything possible to conserve any remnants of natural forest, and to encourage it to spread. And, in the absence of surviving forest, work together with biologists, ecologists and horticulturalists to replant locally indigenous plants to encourage the re-emergence of forests. An important caveat here: if you are developing in a grassland or fynbos region, remember that these biomes support only small forested thickets, usually in kloofs and gorges, and that they should be mostly – well – grassland and fynbos.
It may seem a bit tree-huggy, but potential buyers will appreciate the forests, which should reflect in the price they’re prepared to pay for a home. And – once the houses have all been sold, and the residents are in – the presence of some natural forest will contribute to greater happiness, decreased stress and improved health.