Picture this: a downtown tree nursery planted on the vacant CentrePointe block, with the crushed brick there now used for walking paths. Strips of native grass would serve as bio-filtration for the site.
It's not pie in the sky, but a serious landscape plan put forward by M2D Design Firm, one of the city's pre-eminent landscape architecture and urban planning firms.
M2D has designed a plan called Urban Tapestry, where 275 or so trees would be planted for the next two to six years. The trees could be purchased by the city, or donated by individuals and community groups, said Mark Arnold, a partner in M2D. "Why couldn't we start a campaign for tree donations?" he asked.
"When CentrePointe, or whatever, happens on that block, the trees could be picked up and moved, filtered all over the county to schools, parks and neighborhoods."
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As landscape architects, the firm is concerned with how downtown will look to an international audience during the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Arnold hit upon the idea for a tree nursery after hearing Vice Mayor Jim Gray suggest adding topsoil and planting grass on the site as temporary vegetative cover.
Grass, as most homeowners know, is high maintenance, requiring chemicals and a tremendous amount of water to thrive, he said. In the heat of August and September, lawns turn brown and look dead.
Trees require less water, would create shade and a cool, soothing space downtown.
He and his partners put their heads together to brainstorm ideas. The idea of urban fabric spawned the idea of quilts. The firm researched quilt patterns, Arnold said.
The temporary nursery would be laid in large blocks of different varieties of trees, with leaves of different colors and texture. Existing construction debris could be ground up and used for pathways. The site would be suitable for outdoor art, casual gatherings and fairs.
The firm did not perform a detailed cost analysis, but if you figure $300 a tree for 300 trees, that's $90,000, Arnold said. He figures the cost to create the downtown nursery and transform the block would run between $350,000 and $500,000.
"You're getting half that money back when you move the trees and redistribute them throughout the community," he said.
The firm sent design drawings to CentrePointe developers Dudley and Woodford Webb, Mayor Jim Newberry and Harold Tate, president of the Downtown Development Authority, among others.
Arnold has talked to both Webbs. "They were very gracious and positive and they liked the idea," he said. "But they are very hopeful CentrePointe will move forward."