a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pittsburgh now has smarter trees

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The two guys in this photo may not know it, but they are not standing alongside an ordinary row of trees in Pittsburgh.

These trees are too sophisticated to grow in inner-city soil along Liberty Avenue outside the new August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

They are planted in Silva Cell technology, which allows gardens to thrive in car-polluted urban environments by their having roots growing in aerated soil.

This landscape should add beauty to the new $34.5-million theater named to honor the late Wilson, a Pulitzer Prize wining playwright whose plays were often set in the city’s black Hill District. The bland building that looks like a long giant gray hammer needs all the help it can get to blend into the city’s growing Cultural District.

The strong plastic cells are stacked three high slightly underground, allowing the tree roots to stretch and swell in good soil without pushing up the ground and cracking the sidewalks.

While this streetscape project is among the first in this region to benefit from the technology, a Wal-Mart in Lakeland, Fla, beat Pittsburgh in the race to have better shade trees growing in such cells in a concrete jungle.

By design, the cells are supposed to store storm water rather than allowing it to drain straight to the city’s three rivers. Along the way, the trees should live longer and have fuller canopies than the others in Downtown that usually die in seven years because of stunted root systems.

(This project is largely funded by the R.K. Mellon Foundation)

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