Happy New Year. It’s going to rain until May. The landscape is barren. Our next holiday is over a month away. Just when we need the comfort and security of something life-affirming—something that has been here longer than we have, weathering storms and drought—you come around the corner and it’s gone. They cut down the trees. On Milton St. at the corner of Wentworth St., three giants were struck down. In their place are ground down stumps, bloody with sawdust.
We need our urban trees. Their roots may burrow beneath private property, but their branches extend into public space—they belong to us all.
According to Nanaimo’s Economic Development Office, this is one of the most desirable, livable small cities in North America. Part of that is tied to the shape of our communities and the flavour of our neighbourhoods. Livable. One of the things that makes the Old City Quarter so very livable are its very lively, mature trees.
A tree-lined street gives a neighbourhood personality. The Old City Quarter’s esthetic is so pleasing because it’s dotted with towering maple and chestnut, willowy birch, and evergreens. Closer to the ground, Japanese maple and plum sway for our pleasure. Together they shelter our homes from the heat of the summer and then gracefully drop their leaves to let the warmth-giving sun in during the winter.
Yet speculative investors, developers, and new residents attempt to reshape our city in their own image. They want a cleaner landscape. They want a clearer view. Where the money pouring in comes from places where there are no trees, they don’t have any intrinsic value. Is it a coincidence that the property on Milton St. is listed for sale? Is it a coincidence that it has been on the market for a long, long time? No. Were those three trees a deterrent for buyers? Maybe.
New development often follows a scorched earth approach: flatten it all, then drop the new pieces into their assigned slots. New trees, young plantings, can have a tough time making it. The vision of the suburbs. Aren’t there enough flattened, ennui-inducing subdivisions in the north end of town? Is this the destiny of the south end?
The City of Nanaimo is pleased to welcome this rampant development. And if a project requires an amendment to zoning bylaws, throw it in front of Council and see the hands raised and lowered in unison, like marionettes, as the motions pass in quick succession. The previous Council enjoyed spending. A lot. The teat it suckled at is desperate for development fees and new taxpayers, and desperate times make strange bedfellows. The cash injection the city needs sits in other provinces and offshore, so our leaders pull back the sheets and invite them to climb in. It remains to be seen whether the new Mayor and Council sworn in this December have the same priorities.
Trees are the timekeepers of the seasons. Their buds signal spring. Their shade brings relief in the summer. Their fall colour ushers in the harvest. Their branches grow bare in the winter and let what little light there is shine through. In the urban environment, we rely on trees to keep us grounded.
The Lorax had it right. Corporate greed consumes nature. Treeless, we’re left in the dust bowls of barren plains. Not so livable anymore, the money will find another small city. And we will be left with nothing.
We take our urban trees at our own peril. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”