Marsham Street’s parliament of trees

A London Plane tree stands outside the Home Office on Marsham Street during protests against the government's new asylum policy.

Plants appear in political scenes all the time: they’re street furniture. Look at a photo of any military parade or protest, for example, and you’ll more than likely see trees in the background. 

They also exert political power in the way that they shape the landscape. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her beautiful piece on moss for Emergence Magazine, mosses “cover the inanimate with the animate”; the same surely goes for trees. They break up the pavement and provide shelter and solidity for people to gather around, as in this photo of a London Plane at the 14th April gathering outside the Home Office building at 2 Marsham Street, protesting the government’s cruelly idiotic new refugee resettlement policy.

You’ll also see a cluster of birches on the left, close enough to the building to look like they’re guarding it—or at least screening it. Positioning makes an amazing difference: from this angle they form a parliament of Marsham Street trees, with the young sycamore across the street facing off the birches, and a column of tall, elegant London Planes keeping the peace. Or perhaps the scene’s other features—the barriers, the line of uniformed police officers, the office building’s uncompromising façade—frame everything as confrontational anyway.

Regardless, Marsham Street would look and feel harder, flatter, and more direct without its trees. They may have been put there as simple street furniture, for air quality or shade or aesthetics, but they’re now part of street life—whatever that might entail.


For further reading, see Jan Woudstra and Camilla Allen’s new book, The Politics of Street Trees.

Jay Richardson

by Jay Richardson
Monday 25th April