What Makes the New Trees Downtown So Special? | ♡ Heart of the City for Families


We hope you’ve been learning as much as we have about construction and all the work that has happened over the summer for the Heart of the City project.  Now that the below the surface work is done (the infrastructure!), it seems that things are changing, and new things are being completed almost every time we’re downtown Rochester MN.

You can always access our ♡Heart of the City for Rochester Families♡ posts on the Rochester Mom homepage on our main navigation bar.  Just look for the Heart of the City title.

You’ll want to head downtown to fill out the Heart of the City scavenger hunt! We’ve recently updated this scavenger hunt to include new things to find. Pick up your scavenger hunt at the construction station outside the Heart of the City construction office (on 1st Avenue SW just down from Tangerine Gifts) or print it out here.

If you haven’t had a chance to do that yet, plan to add it to your weekend plans! This will give you a chance to all the new additions to the Heart of the City. Turn in your completed hunt at the construction office station and pick up a construction hat and be entered in the weekly drawing to win a MOKA gift card!

New Trees in the Heart of the City create a “Forest Room”

Recently, some very special trees were planted in the heart of the city along 1st Avenue SW and the Peace Plaza.  We were so curious to learn more about these trees, and what exactly makes them so special (hint: they are creating a Forest Room)!

We spoke with Britton Jones, Professional Landscape Architect with Coen+Partners (a Heart of the City partner), Joshua Johnsen, City of Rochester Project Manager, and Mike Nigbur, Park and Forestry Division Head for the City of Rochester.  They answered all of our questions and more!

What species of trees were planted in the Heart of the City? 

There are three different species of trees: two oak species and one maple specie.  The Regal Prince Oak, Crimson Spire Oak, and Armstrong Gold Maple.

How big are the trees now and how tall will they get?

The trees planted in the Heart of the City are 6″ caliper.  (Fun Fact! A caliper is the diameter of the trunk at a specific distance above the ground. A common measuring distance is 4 1/2 feet – 5 feet above the soil.) At maturity, these trees could potentially measure 48 feet!

All of the tree species are columnar: this means that they grow tall and skinny.  This is important for a few reasons.  First, tree growth will not interfere with buildings downtown on either side of 1st Avenue or in the Peace Plaza.  Second, undesirable animals and birds are less likely to inhabit columnar species of trees.  However, many types of songbirds do like to roost and build nests in these types of trees.  Keep a lookout for birds like cardinals, goldfinches, and yellow warblers.

The trees planted in the Heart of the City are much larger than you would find in private home landscaping projects. When the project is finished, the mature trees will lend a more complete feel to the streetscape…almost like they have always been there!

Where did the trees come from?

The Heart of the City trees come from differing parts of the US with a history of positive growth in our Minnesota climate.  So far, trees have come from Canada and Ohio and possibly more locations in the US before the project is completed.

What color will the leaves turn in the fall?

The Armstrong Gold Maple trees that are planted around the scrim pool in the Peace Plaza will turn from orange to yellow in the fall.

The Regal Prince Oak and Crimson Spire Oak leaves will turn from green to red to brown.  An interesting fact about these two species of trees is that they will keep their leaves all through the winter.  They will drop their leaves during the spring when new leaf growth is pushing through on stems and branches.  The timeframe that this happens is relatively short, making leaf clean-up shorter and easier.

How are the trees planted?

The Heart of the City trees are planted using a special below the surface modular building block called treebox. Treeboxes are also called silva cells.  These special cells suspend the pavement and everything located at street level while simultaneously providing the perfect environment for root growth.

The treeboxes are filled with uncompacted, high-quality soil.  They will also provide stormwater management by providing an extra level of filtration before stormwater drains into the river.

Treeboxes (also called Silva cells) along 1st Avenue SW ready for the Heart of the City trees.

What other benefits do trees have in downtown landscape architecture?

Trees are incredibly helpful for both wind and heat mitigation.  Downtown Rochester can be quite a windy place and the streets will sometimes feel a bit like a wind tunnel!

The tall columnar species of trees will help mitigate this wind.  Additionally, since the oak species do not drop their leaves until the spring, they will be particularly helpful for mitigating wind in the colder seasons.

Heat mitigation is also important in urban landscapes.  The downtown area of a city can sometimes be described as a “heat island.” A heat island can occur in an urban area and is characterized by higher temperatures in a dense and urban area, than a rural area that is close by. This can be caused by the energy from cars, buses, people, even buildings (have you ever walked by a hot vent on a building in the middle of summer?). Trees help mitigate the effects of a heat island by providing building and streetscape shade, deflecting the sun’s rays, and releasing moisture into the air.  Trees can also help reduce energy needs through heat mitigation.

Have any other cities used these trees in their urban city projects?

Minneapolis has used all three species of trees used in the Heart of the City Project in their urban design and streetscape planning.  These trees were also used in the Commons Park in East downtown Minneapolis (opened in 2016).

What is a Forest Room?

The layout of the new trees in downtown Rochester is meant to create a Forest Room. The Heart of the City is using trees to create comfortable spaces for people to be in: to have conversations, play, eat a nice lunch, sit with a friend, or simply enjoy a nice breeze.  Think of the completed Heart of the City Forest Room as your pleasant, urban living room.

Rendering of a Forest Room in the Heart of the City. This perspective is looking north from 2nd street SW down 1st Avenue to the Peace Plaza. The completed project may not look exactly like this.

Thanks so much to Britton, Mike and Josh!  We cannot wait to enjoy these special trees when the project is completed. 🌳



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