Environmental Dead Zone

My previous post was more of a sentimental ode to the patch of scrappy urban nature that may soon be gone.

This one is bit more pragmatic — and a plea to any readers who know of research or information that would support the preservation of a few more fragments of wildlife habitat and green space.

Mavis and Marvin

As a young couple, struggling to make it the Vancouver housing market, Marvin and Mavis worry that their nesting site is going to be gentrified into oblivion.

The school that plans to fell the trees and install the artificial turf stadium is a private one and they own the land. They are quite entitled to have a sports facility for their students, of course, and we would love to see a field installed for the kids. We wish, though, that they could be content with a natural grass field. One that would allow a bit of nature, including the poplars, to co-exist with their sports needs.

In fact, this is a conversation that local residents had with the school over ten years ago, and was something we’d thought settled to everyone’s satisfaction when they submitted plans for a grass field in back in 2008.

Now we’ve learned that an amendment to the permit was submitted at the beginning of this year, with no notice to local residents. It’s come as bit of a shock.

The crows have held some ad hoc protest groups already …


If we want to keep a tenuous (and precious) thread to the natural world intact in our cities, we need to make a few compromises.

One of my favourite resources on this topic is John Marzluff’s book, Subirdia.

Marzluff offers ten commandments for small compromises we city dwellers can make in order eke out just enough habitat for our wild neighbours to survive, and maybe even thrive.

Needless to say, cutting down stands of trees and laying down artificial turf are not on his list of suggestions.

Marzluff writes eloquently about why the effort to make space for nature in our urban lives is worthwhile and vital:

“Experience shapes our ethics and actions. If experience no longer includes nature, then our ethics cannot reflect the full needs of our natural world. Our interaction with nature is reciprocal — as we affect it, it affects us. Strengthening our place in the city’s ecological web builds resilience to change and allows us to co-exist with a wonderful diversity of life. Cutting our ties to the web is like cutting the belay line climbers rely upon as they stretch for a distant handhold. As we stretch to live within a rapidly changing world, are we ready to gamble on an unprotected, solo climb?”

While high school students need sports and exercise as part of a well-rounded education, surely ecology and ethics should also be on the curriculum.

I am hoping that the school will be convinced to let the trees remain because of their importance to the shelter, breeding, and feeding for local birds, as well as for their simple beauty.

Mavis Sept 22-18

Mavis ponders life without the Notre Dame poplars

I never thought I’d find myself writing in favour of grass fields, but I also hope that the school and the City will give the artificial turf choice a hard second look. While large grass areas do have many environmental problems — their water water and pesticide consumption being the most obvious — I’m not sure we should replacing grass sports fields with artificial turf without some serious consideration.

The artificial turf “solution” may turn out to be one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sort of things. Some of the articles I’ve read on the pros and cons of artificial turf are listed below.*

This battle is going on in almost every city around the globe. It’s a rather unequal contest between urban development, and quieter voices trying to save some little bits of nature within the sprawl.

To return to Joni Mitchell’s words, “you don’t know what  you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Even if you don’t fully realize that your day is made a little more sane by the distant sound of birdsong, or the antics of a crow on the power lines, I’m pretty sure you would notice a silence and an absence.

Eric in Poplars


See my previous post: Urban Nature is Fragile

Follow for news of community actionNotre Dame Neighbours


Government of Western Australia: Broader Environmental Considerations: Chapter 7 of the Natural Grass vs Synthetic Turf Surfaces Study Final Report.

The Conversation: Why artificial turf may truly be bad for kids

Mom’s Team, The Trusted Source for Sports Parents — Turf Wars: the Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

Mike Ozanian, How Taxpayers Get Fooled On The Cost Of An Artificial Turf Field

Huffington Post:  Artificial Grass May Save Water, But Does It Endanger People?

The Guardian:  Growth in artificial lawns poses threat to British wildlife, conservationists warn

13 thoughts on “Environmental Dead Zone

  1. The school may be private but it does have to meet city by-law and zoning restrictions. Unfortunately, the trees may not fit the girth for size, however I do know City of Vancouver has a tree cutting by-law, which if the trees met the requirements would protect them.

    I’ll think some more on this. Artificial turf fields are a toxic cesspool of leachate (look them up), not to mention the light pollution that will invariably follow once they put up the large and high artificial lighting over the fields. Case in point: West Vancouver sports fields by Ambleside Park. Although the sports fields are used in the evenings, the light pollution and debatable environmental health of installing artificial turfs on these fields so close to the natural flora and fauna there still seems dubious.

  2. Hi June,

    This is classic cumulative effects and death and destruction by many “small” projects that destroy perfectly good patches of small but valuable habitat. Vancouver does a horrible job of habitat protection in my (biased?) opionion. I had a series of exchanges with the city on this topic a few years ago and included some references from the ecological literature. I will send these references to you next week if that works for you. (At the moment I am sitting in the airport in Toronto and won’t be back until Tuesday).

    Cheers, Sarah


  3. In my recent training as a forest therapy guide, I was introduced to the writing of Richard Louv, who wrote The Last Child in the Woods, and coined the phrase, “nature deficit disorder.” This book has many ideas and suggestions to “create change in your community” re: nature and how it’s essential for human health–not to mention the health of all animals. Perhaps some of these ideas can be put forth to sway the school to look at this project differently. If they don’t care about the birds, perhaps they’ll care about their students and can be convinced that way.

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  5. I don’t get it! There’s a full set of artificial-turf sports fields, together with a track and various other sports activities along the edges, at Hastings Park: only one kilometre away.
    It seems like a huge waste of money, land and urban wildlife. I like those towering, impressive poplars, too, and admire them every time I go by.
    Thanks June; I’m living in the ‘hood but not directly in the vicinity of this school and hadn’t heard about the issue yet. But it was front-and-centre at the all-candidate meeting at HCC last thursday.
    I enjoy your blogs immensely, thank you!

  6. Hi June,

    CBC had a brief report on the use of artificial grass earlier this week: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/artificial-grass-city-of-vancouver-streetscapes-1.4799983. Although the article focuses on Vancouver I have seen a steady increase in green carpeting in North Vancouver as well. Hideous doesn’t even begin to describe the aesthetic. The irony for me is that in the quest for the perfect environment in this part of the world is to install plastic grass. Isn’t it already green and lush and beautiful? Mind you, these are the same complexes that blow all of the leaves away from shrubs only to apply fertilizer later…

    Perhaps we’ve lost our ability to appreciate nature as it is: messy, cluttered, puzzling and sometimes inconvenient. It can be very discouraging. But I take heart in people like you and your neighbours who will rally round and bring attention to the fragile nature that exists in an urban environment. I hope the poplars are spared during the building of the stadium – I enjoy looking at them each time I visit your studio.

    All the best, Cathy

  7. PLEASE… do whatever you can in order to save the Poplars!!!!! I wish I could be there to help but I live in Tampa, Florida. I’m with you in saving what little natural space we have. Just look at Florida, soon it will be wall- to- wall home developments with little nature to enjoy. It’s so-o-o sad.

    • Thanks, Judith. There is great pressure in Vancouver to densify and make more spaces for people to live. That’s understandable, but I do worry that there will me more places for people to live in what becomes a far less liveable city.

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