One of my favorite things about McMinnville is its historic downtown shopping district, 3rd Street. I enjoy walking up and down 3rd Street every chance I get. I’m a sucker for historic structures and architecture, so I catch myself wandering around looking at the many old buildings wondering what life was like at the time they were built. But then I’m distracted from the brick and stone facades by the smells from the many restaurants and cafes up and down 3rd Street. The sounds of conversation over meals or a beverage at the outdoor seating along the edge of the sidewalk are welcome to my ears, and together with the sights of the window displays in the shops, the street comes alive to my senses. But perhaps my favorite feature of 3rd Street are the street trees.
The maples, lindens, and hornbeams lining 3rd Street change throughout the seasons when the brick and stone facades or restaurant menus may not - the fall color of the leaves, the patterns of the branches outlined with dazzling lights in the winter, the leaves emerging in the spring so they can provide shade in the summer. All these characteristics that change from season to season add another layer of vitality to the 3rd Street corridor, one that I think is crucial to the success of any outdoor space, and even a commercial district. I recognize that my background in landscape architecture may bias me to place extra emphasis on trees and their role in commercial districts like 3rd Street, but there is actually some science that supports the idea that street trees and other landscape features can help commercial districts thrive.
A successful commercial district could, in part, be defined as one that attracts people to it, encourages them to spend their time there, and encourages them to spend their money there. A 2005 study by University of Washington researcher Kathleen L. Wolf showed that street trees and streetscapes can help with all three of these criteria. The study found that urban forests are associated with more favorable perceptions of the business district and its amenities. There was also found to be a higher rating of merchants, products, and in-store experiences in business districts with trees than without trees. What does all this mean? According to Wolf, “Favorable expectations of the shopping experience are initiated long before a consumer enters a shop’s doors.” Shopping areas with trees were found to attract people from greater distances and for longer periods of time than ones with no trees, and the study also found that customers were comfortable paying between 9% and 12% more for goods in a well-landscaped place. Street trees and streetscape can play an important role in attracting and retaining customers and getting them to open their wallets a little wider.
Street trees and their associated streetscape can not only have positive environmental impacts that most people are aware of, but they also have hidden benefits for commercial districts that will help them prosper. Considering this, it’s no wonder that the 3rd Street street trees are as revered as they are. Those maples, lindens, and hornbeams serve as reminders and examples that thoughtful and integrated streetscaping is beneficial to commercial districts, which in turn can help create a “Great Neighborhood”.
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