Urban Nature Is Fragile

I am filled with sadness every time I look out of my window lately.

We have lived here for 27 years and my favourite view has always been of the row of Lombardy poplars fringing the private school at the end of our block. In the fall it is golden, in the winter and early spring it’s a shadow puppet show of bird life. From ravens to tiny bushtits — the branches are full of bird activity all year round.

When the wind blows, the trees make a sound like rushing river.

Urban nature can be tough and tenacious. Dandelions forcing their way to the light through tarmac. Moss or rust overwhelming almost any surface, given time.

But urban nature is so very fragile in the face of human decision-making.

The school has not had a sports field for over ten years, since they redeveloped the site. We’ve been expecting a field to go in at any time over those years, and local residents are looking forward to the project being finished and seeing the students with somewhere to play and exercise.

But now we are realizing that they are not just going to build a field — they have plans for a sports stadium — complete with artificial turf and (most likely) the removal of the beloved poplars.

The neighbours are upset for many reasons — mostly the noise, traffic and parking headaches that the stadium will bring.

I’m anxious about those things too — but what makes me truly heartsick is the idea of converting  that little bit of urban nature into an environmental desert.

If the trees do come down, the City of Vancouver will require that some new trees are planted to replace them — but they won’t be anywhere near the stature of the existing stand of poplars.

The entire rest of the school campus will be covered with building, parking lot, and plastic grass.

It was on this campus that I spotted migrating mountain bluebirds this spring, and where I had my wonderful conversations with a raven.

The white crowned sparrows and finches like to bathe in puddles and feed on seeds from grass growing in currently fallow areas. 


Northern flickers, I’ve noticed, love to watch the sun rise from the tops of the poplars.

I watched the whole unfolding drama of two crow families building and tending nests in those same trees from March to July.


Nature in the city is a delicate balance.

It’s not as if they’re really taking paradise and putting up a parking lot.

You couldn’t really call it paradise — a big, rutted parking area with weeds around the edges and a big patch of free-growing grass left from when an old wing of the school was torn down years ago.


But it has actually been paradise to those birds. They don’t really ask for much.

And, in terms of putting up a parking lot — there will be a new parking lot — but that parking lot will probably be marginally more environmentally friendly than the artificial turf football field  — an ocean of sterile plastic grass that will fill almost every square remaining inch of the campus.

So, yes — every time I look out of my window now, I’m sad as I wonder how many more times I’ll see the sun and moon rise behind those branches, and I ask myself where the birds will be nesting next spring?


See part two of this blog, coming soon, for a less heartbroken, and more pragmatic, view of this issue.

For more information on community response to the proposed Notre Dame Stadium, see the Notre Dame Neighbours website.


23 thoughts on “Urban Nature Is Fragile

  1. Oh June ..I know the feeling. I am a tree lover from early days in West Van. Went through many battles and one here on Wall Street. My sister, a nurse, was sleeping day shift with plugs and woke up to all the privacy gone from their pool as neighbours had cut their trees!! It is also a shock for all the wildlife. Let’s hope it takes a while as most City projects do. If a tree is healthy it should stay.

  2. Oh no. I haven’t spent time with these trees, but I’ve certainly been aware of them when coming to your studio sales. I wonder if you can share this heartfelt blog entry with the powers that be. It make so much sense to keep the trees. And why take them down if they’re going to plant other trees anyway? Why are humans so at odds with the natural environment? Why don’t they care more?

  3. Is there any way they can just make this a little “habitat island”? This is heartbreaking I know how you must be feeling. I hope your community can come together and find a fix for this. However, developers tend to be just heartless bastards but it’s worthwhile to do what you can.

  4. I’m not sure where the trees are located on the site, however I sure do hope that they can incorporate their beauty into the new “plan” and let them stay planted exactly where they are. Fingers crossed.

  5. I hope the neighbourhood can try to fight this decision, June. Those must be heritage trees, and what are the City of Van’s by-laws against significant tree-cutting worth, if they can’t preserve a stand of heritage trees such as these? Such BS. I hope the community around there can rally a fight to try to keep the trees. There loss would be a horrible and irreplaceable one, most significantly to the bird life. This kind of needless tree loss just infuriates me. I’ll keep tabs on this. Very distressing news, indeed. Thanks for this update.

  6. I hope they come to their senses and leave the trees! I’m always so sad when people here think taking down a 50 or 200 or 1000 year old tree can be evened out by planting a baby one somewhere else.

    BTW, I love your blog!

  7. June, you raise such a dear issue. These physical trees are precious, its their silloette, the change of the seasons, and all the life they support. Gone for me is the horizon in my neighbourhood, with an ugly over-height building at the corner of Kingsway and Broadway which was broadly condemmed by neighbours in the surrounding community. Gone is my sliver view of the mountains, gone is the horizon, gone is the sunlight. Hello to a view of ridiculousness – huge trees planted on the top of this building, like this is where nature plants trees. I understand that densification has to happen, but I hate that the nature around us is the loser, view corridors are lost.

    • So sorry to hear about the changes in your neigbhourhood. There is such a constant surge to create more density, which is necessary, but I do wonder if a bit more thought could be devoted to maintaining enough scraps of nature to keep us sane in the city.

  8. i hope your battle to save the trees will be fruitful…like one of the previous writer’s said, I hope they will leave this little island for wild-life, Arborists tend to think Lombardys are “weed” trees, fragile with falling branches and other messes. Glad you and the neighbours are letting your feelings known..maybe the new council will see things your way. Good luck.

  9. This is truly sad.
    Trees make all the difference to our lives. They provide us with everything we need. In return they get cut down.
    Birds need trees. We need trees. When a development project is finished, and a few shrubs are put up, it is not at all urban nature. When they put in actual trees, but limit their growth for convenience, that’s not a solution.

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