Let’s start at the beginning. I am not a Vancouverite but instead a transplanted New Yorker drawn to the city’s flame by love nearly four decades ago. But that love evolved into a fierce desire to bask in our wondrous land and seascape. By happenstance, my profession as park board communications officer blended miraculously well with my natural affinity for parks, gardens, green spaces, and most significantly, trees.
In my 35 years as a park board spokesman I was exposed to an endless army of dedicated community proponents of the aforementioned who were tireless in their efforts while speaking in defence of what makes this place so livable. These long-gone crusaders did things like saving the entrance to Stanley Park from highrise development; lobbying for the majority of land comprising the Old Shaughnessy Golf Course for what would become the magnificent VanDusen Gardens; never relenting in encouraging the park board to purchase land along Point Grey Road for public waterfront access as it did along English Bay so many years before. These “heroes” were advocates for public spaces.
Now I believe we need a new generation of advocates to protect private landscapes, primarily trees.
There are days when I walk around my Kerrisdale neighbourhood when I become disorientated, not by a failing mind but by a landscape uprooted. How many times have I called city hall and left messages about unnecessary imminent bulldozing of iconic trees where houses are being demolished. I know what you may be thinking, a person’s property is her own, but I would vehemently disagree when it comes to trees.
Next time you drive across Burrard Bridge or are stopped at a light near 16th and Arbutus, look up to the west and register the great, green canopy of trees. Though our city street trees are significant softeners on boulevards they are diminutive in comparison to the giants that dot older residential properties. Sometimes they have been planted with little thought for their future impact on gardens but their positive attributes are many and a myriad of solutions await those eager to live in harmony with them.
A silent slaughter is happening all around us as older homes are flattened and virtually every single living thing is obliterated from the landscape. What instruction or supervision is coming from city staff in regard to tree retention? Most of my friends wouldn’t dream of taking down a tree over a certain caliper without checking first so what message is given to developers and contractors? I would say the message is clear across the board—take down whatever you want because building houses trumps all else.
And please save me from the usual response that the developer will replace all downed trees. Have you actually seen the new trees? Usually they are three-year-old ornamentals that will never attain the status of the property’s former woody sentinel.
Today on my morning walk I passed a lovely, diminutive cottage property probably built in the 1930s. A modest house, its front garden is dominated by a giant cedar whose limbs had been appropriately “lollypoped-up.” It is a perfect home more than adequate for raising a family. Whoever lives there feels an obligation to this evergreen but the scene saddened me. I thought, this tree is on Death Row and I feel powerless in stopping the execution.
A year ago we moved from our home and garden of 35 years in Kerrisdale to a smaller property just 12 blocks away. One of the deciding factors in choosing the new location was the only tree that stood on the 33 by 130 foot-space was a 100 foot cedar tree. I loved the house but when I eyed the evergreen grandeur of this elegant specimen I silently thought, we will save you for as long as we live here. And we will.
Terri Clark is a Kerrisdale resident and former park board communications officer.