Narrow Streets with Trees

The “after” images in my recent proposal to narrow a residential street such as McAllister didn’t emphasize any street trees or other greenery. The general lack of greenery was one of the more common issues raised, even among many supporters of the broader narrow streets proposal.

Imagining McAllister Street narrowed to about 15 feet wide -- the size of the existing sidewalk -- with a row of new houses placed in the existing auto roadway.

Of course, plants of all kinds certainly play a role in making a street more pleasant and livable, and there’s no reason they can’t be incorporated into a narrow street. The key is to use them as a way to embellish a properly sized Street For People, not to serve as filler on an excessively wide street.

In real world examples it’s common to see a simple arrangement of potted plants, placed in front of a house or business and cared for by the occupants.

Marbella - old town

Paroikia, narrow streets




Beautiful street in Flekkefjord

Trees show up occasionally, both in smaller urban villages and larger cities like Paris. They tend not to be as massive as some of the trees we see in San Francisco today, which the city struggles to care for, and which have an unfortunate tendency to fall and cause damage.


A walk through Chinatown

narrow paris street

Some of the best streets use a mix of everything — hanging or potted plants, flower boxes, bushes, trees. It’s really up to the residents of the street to choose what they want and what they’re willing to maintain. Interestingly, smaller streets often seem to encourage a greater sense of care and ownership among residents. And with fewer big trees, there can be less of a public safety need for the city to get involved in trimming and maintenance.

Møllestien a cozy old street in the middle of Aarhus


Arlington Row in Bibury, Gloucestershire

Narrow Street


  2 comments for “Narrow Streets with Trees

  1. July 3, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    Yep, narrow streets can certainly be greened up. More than any other habitat, the places I associate the most with bougainvillea are the narrow streets of Dalmatian towns and villages.

  2. July 10, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Friends of the Urban Forest would likely support a plan that protects and maintains our existing urban forest, and (ideally) that increases the number of street trees and sidewalk gardens in San Francisco. Though some may view street trees as embellishments or filler, they’re a vital element of urban infrastructure, and are increasingly referred to as “green infrastructure” by urban planners ( San Francisco’s street trees provide annual benefits estimated at more than $100 million, including the reduction of stormwater runoff, absorption of greenhouse gases, creation of wildlife habitat, stress reduction, and an increase in property values ( The larger the “canopy cover” (percentage of land area covered by trees), the greater the benefits, but unfortunately our urban forest is relatively sparse: we rank 17th in canopy cover (at 13.7%) among the 20 most populous U.S. cities. Worse yet, our urban forest is shrinking as tree removal (primarily due to mortality) outpaces our meager planting rate ( This is due to City Hall’s chronic under-funding of urban forestry (, which also results in the danger posed by under-maintained trees, which you mentioned. But the remedy for that is not the removal of trees; rather it is the commitment of adequate funding for proper maintenance and a strong municipal urban forestry program, in which the city (not property owners) bears responsibility for tree and sidewalk maintenance and associated liability. That’s why Friends of the Urban Forest has been working with the San Francisco Planning Department to develop an urban forest plan that includes funding recommendations ( We invite San Franciscans who share our vision of a thriving urban forest to participate in our advocacy program ( As for narrowing our streets, can this be accomplished without requiring the removal of existing street trees and without reducing the number of sites that are currently eligible for street trees but don’t yet have them?

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