Irus Braverman

Urban Trees Project

The Natural Grid, Brookline Massachusetts. Photo by Irus Braverman 'Premarking' from 'Dig-Safe', Boston 2005. Photo by Irus Braverman 'Marking' from 'Dig-Safe', Boston 2005. Photo by Irus Braverman 'Details of Hardscape Tree Surround.' Courtesy of the City of Vancouver Engineering Service Illustration of 'Standard' (top) vs. 'Special' (bottom) City Boulevard Treatments, the City of Vancouver Tree Guidelines. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver 'Protection of boulevard trees adjacent to construction sites,' the City of Vancouver Engineering Services Guidelines. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver

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Most sociolegal studies of the urban street focus on the human element. By focusing on the tree, this project offers a unique perspective on the interrelations between various actors within the public spaces of modern North American cities. Situated at the intersection of legal geography, anthropology, and Science and Technology Studies, this project demonstrates how natural artifacts function as technologies of governance, thereby masking crucial political interventions behind a natural facade. The tensions between nature and the city, as embedded in both the construction and the regulation of street trees, provide an unusual perspective on the management of urban populations and on the intricate relationship between law, space, and technology.

Municipalities invest large sums of money as well as much bureaucratic and professional effort into making their cities not only a more "treefull" place, but also a place that surveys, measures, regulates, and manages its trees. This project explores the transformation of the utilitarian discourse on trees, which focuses on the benefits of trees and greenery, into a normative discourse whereby trees are not only considered good but are also represented as if they are or should be loved by everybody. This transformation is not only the result of top-down governmental policies. It is also a consequence of longstanding romantic views of nature in the city - especially in the American city - facilitated by environmental organizations, local communities, and individual activists. Importantly, the attribution of morality to tree practices masks the clandestine project of governing the urban population and the control of city crime in particular.


(2014). "Order and Disorder in the Urban Forest." In L. Anders Sandberg, Adrina Bardekjian, and Sadia Butt (eds.), Urban Forests, Trees, and Green Space: A Political Ecology Perspective (forthcoming, Routledge - Earthscan).

(2008). Everybody Loves Trees: Policing American Cities through Street Trees. Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum 19: 81-118. [SSRN]

(2008). Governing Certain Things: The Regulation of Street Trees in Four North American Cities. Tulane Environmental Law Journal 22(1): 35-60. [SSRN]

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