Mixed reaction to 'robot trees' being installed in Cork city centre

THE futuristic ‘robot trees’ currently being installed in Cork city centre have been met with a mixed reaction with some praising them as a useful tool in tackling air pollution and others criticising the structures as largely ineffectual.

On Monday the first of five high-tech ‘CityTrees’ was erected in the city centre.

The four-metre tall units are being installed at Patrick Street near French Church Street and on Grand Parade near Cork City Library as part of Cork City Council’s strategy to tackle air pollution across the city.

Using Internet Of Things (IOT) technology, these pieces of street furniture – which are covered in a mixture of moss cultures - filter harmful pollutants out of the air.

The council has said each CityTree can filter the air usage equivalent of up to 7,000 people per hour.

The air filtering performance of the CityTrees is regularly measured using air quality sensors and information about the city’s air quality is displayed to the public.

Speaking to The Echo, John Sodeau, emeritus professor of chemistry at University College Cork (UCC) with research interests in atmospheric chemistry and aerobiology, said while this feature is an advantage, the CityTrees will have limited effect in terms of improving air quality.

“They have the advantage of being able to show the public how dirty the air is in that particular spot using sensors mounted in them and close by.

“Unfortunately they still only filter out particles from the immediate vicinity around the tree.

“They have little or no effect in improving air quality at distances more than a few metres away,” he said.

Professor Sodeau said he would be in favour of planting hedges to improve air quality.

“Some [real] trees can take out air pollutants while others can make small particulates when around in sufficient quantities.

“Personally, I would plant hedges along the curb side everywhere.

“These, grown to a child’s height, physically take out particulates emitted by cars, trucks and buses and are much cheaper to deploy than the robo trees,” he said.

Green Party councillor Dan Boyle said he sees some benefits to the CityTrees.

“Anything new is going to be looked at a bit dubiously,” he said.

“I see them as an additional tool that’s available in terms of air quality.

“We have about half a dozen EPA monitoring stations in Cork city and Cork harbour and they’re very distant from each other.

“We have a couple dozen PurpleAir monitors to try to fill in the gaps and one of the values I can see with the cyber trees is that it would allow us to properly monitor the effect of the Patrick Street traffic zone scheme in the sense that if it was properly policed we could tell the air quality effects of full traffic and the air quality effects of bus-only times.”

Mr Boyle said the decision to purchase these structures is an executive one and was not voted on by city councillors.

He said the funding came from central Government.

Mr Boyle added that he could like to see the idea of green walls and green roofs where vegetative layers are placed on top of a wall or roof becoming a part of Cork’s street architecture in the future to help with air quality.

David Joyce, Director of Operations with Cork City Council described the CityTrees as “a site-specific solution to the challenge of air pollution”.

He said the CityTrees also act as “an attractive piece of street furniture or meeting point” and are in place in areas such as London, Berlin and Glasgow.

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