Marvin (Mavis is otherwise occupied with nest sitting) and I want to say a huge thank-you to everyone responded to my request last week and wrote letters to Vancouver’s Planning Department and Council. You wrote about the Notre Dame poplars in particular, and the importance of urban nature in general.
Vancouver City staff and council heard from all over North America and from Europe. As Vancouver has an international image as a “green” city, I believe that international comments are fully valid. They also heard from many, many people from Vancouver. They received letters from those who have a personal fondness for this area, and from others who have never seen the site in person, but who are concerned about how inappropriate and environmentally reckless developments seem increasingly able to slip through cracks in the permit and public consultation process.
Many people copied me on the letters they wrote and, wow, what an articulate bunch you are! Heartfelt, lucid and logical – they made for compelling reading and I hope they are being read and pondered as we speak over at City Hall.
On April 18 we also hand-delivered a paper petition gathered from our immediate neighbourhood with 360 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office.
So, what’s next? Well, the fight continues. The City Planning department gave April 19 as the deadline for comments, but we will keep on campaigning regardless.
Our first choice would be that the school give up on the sunken, artificial turf stadium plan and go back to the site-appropriate grass practice field that they already have a permit for, and which they agreed upon with neighbours back in 2006.
Failing that, we feel that the new development must go through a proper development permit, including appropriate studies, advisory panels, real community engagement, and review by Mayor and Council before any permits are issued.
Thanks again for your great response, all the letters and the moral support. Much appreciated by me and the local wildlife!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?