UPPER WEST SIDE — In the battle between struggling city trees and the dogs that use them for pit stops, there's a new sheriff in town.
Upper West Sider Kim Johnson has started a company called Curb Allure that makes tree guards, the mini fences that surround New York's sidewalk trees. Johnson says Curb Allure's tree guards are easy on the eyes, easy to assemble and highly durable.
They're also designed to withstand "urban challenges" — such as dog pee that can cut short a city tree's lifespan, Johnson said.
Curb Allure's tree guards can be customized with "urine shields" — clear panels that keep Fido's pee away from greenery. There's also space on the tree guards for a polite sign warning dog owners that letting their pet relieve itself on a tree will kill "Mr. Tree and Ms. Flower."
Curb Allure's tree guards are built with rust-proof aluminum. Unlike steel tree guards, they wont corrode when subjected to a constant stream of canine urine, Johnson said.
Johnson, a 41-year-old who left a marketing career to raise her two children, launched Curb Allure after her own experience trying to get a tree guard installed in front of her West 83rd Street building.
The process was a time-consuming hassle, Johnson said, in part because few contractors specialize in tree guards — most were fencing companies that only installed tree guards once in a while.
"I saw a need there. It gives back, and it helps trees," said Johnson, who launched Curb Allure in April as a nod to her late mother, a passionate gardener whose birthday was in April.
Johnson, who grew up in the leafy suburbs of Toronto, wants Curb Allure's tree guards to help make the city a more beautiful place to live.
Johnson worked with the 75th Street Block Association, the non-profit Trees New York, and a structural engineer to develop her product, which meets the current city guidelines for tree guards. She plans to market Curb Allure to block associations, business improvement districts, property managers and tree advocacy groups.
The guards, which start at $499, are designed to be assembled in about an hour, but Curb Allure offers an installation service for customers who don't want to do it themselves. The tree guards require a free permit from the city.
Johnson, who's still testing her product, has installed her tree guards on the Upper West Side and in Midtown, Chelsea and Harlem. Passers-by — including Upper West Side resident Ted Danson — frequently stop to thank Johnson when they see her putting up the greenery-protecting hardware, she said.
"It brings out the best in people," Johnson said. "Doing these little projects on the street makes people smile."
The tree guard she installed a few months ago on West 75th Street showed no visible wear and tear on Monday, with a young redwood, impatiens and a morning glory vine thriving under its protection.
Part of the motivation behind Curb Allure is selfish, Johnson said. She's hoping prettier tree-lined streets will stem the tide of her friends moving to the suburbs in search of more green space.
"Little things like this make the city more liveable," Johnson said. "Softening it up for families goes a long way."