The Anti-Environmentalists in Town Hall are at it Again

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Deforestation effectsWTF is wrong with town hall these days? Why do they dislike trees so much? Last week town staff presented another plan to make Sixth Street even more of a speedway than it already is, and in doing so they want to remove three dozen mature trees along the north side. The technical term for that is “deforestation.”

You might remember how last term, staff had more than 50 mature trees chopped down along Hurontario Street so they could build a sidewalk on the east side because it was too inconvenient for one of the councillors to cross the street to the existing sidewalk when walking downtown. Nothing says “Welcome to Collingwood” like naked concrete with a self-satisfied council member walking to town hall.

And as far as I’ve been able to ascertain *NONE* of those 50-plus trees they chopped down have been replaced along our town’s streets. In fact, you can walk all around the town core and see where the town has chopped down boulevard trees over the years but not replaced them. It is important for the community’s look and feel to replace trees removed from boulevards with other boulevard trees, even if not in the same location. Why is this not done here?

When the town finally planted a few trees along Third Street some years back (after considerable badgering from residents), they didn’t do anything to maintain or water them during the subsequently very hot summer (no one contacted the residents in front of whose houses these trees were planted to ask them to help, either). Several of those trees died. The town planted other trees in the dog park at Second and High Streets and then failed to maintain (i.e. water) them that hot summer, too. Predictably, many died. The same goes with some of the trees planted along Heritage Drive: left to survive on their own or die (several did). Do you sense a pattern here? Keep in mind: your taxes are paying for these dead trees.*

It suggests to me at least some town staff are highly anti-environment, and at the same time very, very pro-vehicle.** The story in CwoodToday noted:

There are currently 36 trees on the north side of the street, which will all need to be removed under the new design presented on Wednesday. There are between 20 and 25 replacement trees being considered.

Cartoon from social mediaBeing “considered” means it’s not even a sure thing and could as easily be “forgotten” or “deferred” to an indefinite time in the future. And it doesn’t say where or when those replacements will appear. Given the track record of the town for tree replanting and maintenance, I have serious doubts that even that reduced number will be replaced. But why not replace all 100%? Why the reduction? Local media didn’t ask. Can a scrawny stick of a new tree really replace the majesty of a large, mature tree that has taken decades — maybe even more than a century — to grow? No.

And why are they cutting these trees down? Ostensibly to remake two bicycle lanes, but it also makes Sixth Street more vehicle-friendly by removing the current lanes and moving the inconvenient cyclists away from the soon-to-be widened lanes where they might make vehicles slow down.

Are new bike lanes on the busiest, fastest street in town, with no traffic-calming, no speed bumps, no extra stop signs or traffic lights to slow or discourage vehicles the best option? Sixth Street already has a bicycle lane painted on both sides, but they are seldom used by cyclists because of the high volume and speed of traffic, and because the town allows vehicles (such as lawn maintenance trucks and trailers) to park on them. Traffic calming would certainly improve safety but that would inconvenience drivers, so it never gets considered.

Wouldn’t a bicycle lane of this nature be better suited on a slower, less vehicle-dense street? One where trees would not be sacrificed? A safer, more picturesque street? Of course it would. But that wouldn’t help make Sixth Street a better speedway, would it?

The original plan was to expand the current 3.3-metre vehicle lanes to 3.5 metres wide each. I suspect that’s because research shows vehicles travel faster on wider roads. Seems some townhall folk love to make things better for vehicles at the expense of residents: more pollution, more noise, more traffic, and less safety! And I expect it would have lowered property values to build the previously proposed “three-metre-wide two-way multi-use bicycle trail on the south side of the road.” I’m pretty sure that would have required expropriating a large chunk of front yards — private property — along the south side. And it would have meant cyclists and pedestrians passing very close to a lot of front doors and windows.

“Public outcry,” apparently, made the planners come back with a new, but barely improved plan that includes widening the vehicle lanes to “only” 3.3 metres. but with “1.5-metre one-direction [good luck enforcing that!] cycling tracks on each side of the road that are raised and separated from the vehicle lanes. There will be a substantial grassed boulevard on the north side, and a smaller boulevard on the south side. The sidewalk on the north side only will remain.”

As this picture of the latest proposal shows, it still looks like an awful lot of front yards on the south side will have to be expropriated to accommodate the expanded cycle tracks and boulevards. If I calculate correctly from this image, it means widening the Sixth Street corridor by at least 4.26m, possibly by as much as 4.96m, or maybe more, most of which it seems will come from property owners along the south side.

Anti-resident, vehicle-first planning
(As a friend asked me: why hasn’t the town considered making some streets like Sixth single lane, but one-way? That way they could have an expanded bicycle lane and sidewalk without having to uproot and destroy trees.)

Councillors Just Waving Their Hands

Treeless cartoonIt’s a “conundrum” exclaimed Coun. Doherty, proud to be able to finally use a page from her Word-A-Day calendar. One of our clearly flustered councillors came up with the bright idea of “moving some trees to the south side.” Exactly where on the south side isn’t specified (nor, apparently, did the reporter ask), but once the bike path is built, it would mean planting them on someone’s front lawn awfully close to most of the houses there.

I’m not an arborist, but I can tell you that it is almost impossible to safely move large, mature trees like those found along Sixth Street because of their wide root base. Besides, will the town maintain a moved tree or just let it die? Given the town’s history with trees, I suggest the latter. And then the dead trees will be cut down. All of this at whose expense? You, the taxpayer, of course.

Another wingnutty suggestion from council was “planting new trees at a two-to-one ratio in other areas of town to make up for the loss.” That’s like cutting off someone’s foot and then expecting them to be happy you transplanted two toes on someone else’s foot. What does this wacky notion do for the Sixth Street residents who are losing a tree they’ve had on or beside their property for decades? And how will those trees in other, undetermined parts of town make up for the loss of the trees in another neighbourhood?

What about the local wildlife habitat they provide? The pollution reduction? What about the shade they provide pedestrians and cyclists, including children and seniors, walking along Sixth Street on a hot, sunny day? What about degrading the aesthetic effect: the beautiful tree-lined streets tourists come here to see, reduced to barren streetscapes?

None of which seem to matter to council or town hall.

Then our hard-of-thinking mayor came up with another of her facepalm ideas:

“What if we offered to plant on private property?” asked Hamlin. “Most people would love to have a tree on their property. Not everybody, but most would.”

Not big on logic or common sense, is this one. Thirty-six property owners along Sixth Street ALREADY have a tree adjacent to their property they “love.” Some of these doomed trees are perhaps even on their property but in the way of the planned reconstruction, so they get chopped down. And here she is, suggesting the town cut them down and then give away replacement trees to someone else. Will the town compensate the Sixth Street property owners for all the years they lovingly cared for and maintained their tree(s)? Nope. Basically, they’re being screwed by the town.

Can’t See the Canopy for the Trees

Council previously approved an “urban forest management plan” in 2019, but good luck trying to find the actual documents on the town’s user-hostile website.*** And let me remind you of another story in CwoodToday from 2022 that had the headline: Collingwood tree canopy policy falls behind as population grows. I have not seen anything in the local news (no surprises) to suggest that the town has caught up with its own tree canopy policy. But council approved spending a whole lot of our money to allegedly protect trees:

During Monday’s (Aug. 8) strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, councillors will be considering a recommendation to spend up to $100,000 to retain a consultant to inform the next council on how Collingwood can better protect tree canopy. Staff will also be asking councillors to approve an additional $75,000 tree maintenance and removal in 2022, to be taken from the operating contingency fund reserve.

In the 2024 budget, council approved hiring an “Urban Forestry Coordinator” for $110,000. Yet, here are council and staff, ready — and apparently eager — to chop down a whole lot more trees. So I have to ask: WTF does an Urban Forestry Coordinator do if not protect the existing tree canopy? How can they justify that salary if the trees are cut down?

Can't hear the facts...“The urban forest needs to be designed as a first principle, part of the critical infrastructure of the whole city, not just as a cosmetic afterthought,” writes Alan Simson, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Forestry at Leeds Beckett University, in The Conversation. “Research has indicated for example that increasing the canopy cover of a neighbourhood by 10% and creating safe, walkable places can reduce obesity by as much as 18%.”

Nature.org says urban trees can save lives, especially important as climate change creates an increasing number of heat waves: “Trees cool the air by casting shade and releasing water vapor, and their leaves can filter out fine particulate matter (PM)—one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, generated from burning biomass and fossil fuels… Most of the cooling and filtering effects created by trees are fairly localized.”

The World Economic Forum has an article titled The roots of sustainability: 5 reasons why cities need trees, in which it notes, “Trees act as natural coolers in the built environment, alleviating heat-island effect and decreasing energy consumption for better climate change mitigation… A healthy tree cover protects residents from pollution-related diseases, premature death and boosts overall quality of health.”

The United Nations Economic Commision for Europe has a “global campaign of mayors who are implementing pledges to make their cities greener, more sustainable and resilient.” On their webpage, it notes, “Mature trees sequester and store annually up to 150kg carbon dioxide. Moreover, with the right allocation of trees around buildings, significant savings on energy consumption can be achieved.”

I imagine town staff don’t like to be pestered by such inconvenient facts when they’re gearing up to make our streets better for more vehicles. Neighbourhood, schmeighbourhood: cars are all that really matter.****

This is an outrage. How will you feel when the town starts cutting down trees on your street? Other communities are working to improve and maintain their urban canopy, other municipalities find ways to improve residential streets without destroying trees. Why can’t Collingwood?

Collingwood deserves better.

Notes

* A town media release reprinted in CwoodToday without even the most basic journalistic work such as questioning the data presented or the claims (yet disingenuously labelled as being written by “CollingwoodToday Staff”), was headlined “700 trees and 81 gardens planted and Canopy Collingwood program continues.” But that’s misleading. These are all on private property, not public. The town didn’t plant any of these trees: it is merely managing a private donation that gives homeowners a rebate after buying and planting their own trees: a “50 per cent rebate on the cost (excluding delivery charges and taxes) from the town. Each tree is eligible for a maximum rebate of $150 (up to 2 trees), while pollinator gardens can receive a maximum rebate of $150 per property.” Homeowners do all the work. It’s not even the town’s money.
While this is a commendable rebate program, for the town to take credit for it is like the town taking credit for raising your children because it built the sidewalk they use to get to school. It is also sad that our local media has become merely a mouthpiece for town propaganda instead of doing the work one expects of a media outlet. Like fact-checking.

** I’ll post my thoughts on staff’s 1950-ish archaic pro-vehicle, anti-traffic-calming attitudes in an upcoming blog (and how the town plans to make Third Street into another speedway). And don’t get me started on the problems Sixth Street homeowners already face trying to back out of their driveways on a heavily-used, far-too-fast street. Adding more sidewalks and bicycle lanes will make it a nightmare for them. One wonders if they were consulted about this plan, first. Given the town’s poor record in communicating, I doubt it.

*** I searched the town’s murky website where I found many pages that lacked substance or up-to-date information. For example, the town’s canopy program page lacks any links to actual documents that tell us what policies and practices have been officially approved. But what can we expect from the town’s in-house IT department? After all, it merely has 5.3 full-time employees and a budget of more than $1 million (almost ten times the IT budget in 2014). And, as you probably expected, the local media story provides no links to any of the relevant town documents.

On a town media-release page, there is a link to the draft report on trees presented to a standing committee in 2022, but not to any followup as to what a subsequent council actually approved (if it did). Eventually, I found the Urban Forest Management Plan from 2020, but nothing to indicate any updates, changes, or amendments to it or any measure of its success. That plan notes that our boulevard trees are “a prominent part of Collingwood’s urban forest.” Or at least are supposed to be. It states, rather vaguely:

These trees and shrubs provide a wide range of benefits which contribute to the town‟s economic prosperity, social wellbeing, environmental health and cultural vibrancy.

Council approved a new Official Plan in December, 2023, and it has the following in it:

  • Preserve, protect, manage, replace or acquire, where appropriate, tree stands, hedgerows, woodlands and forested areas within the municipal boundary, to support and increase the existing tree canopy as well as enhance connectivity of green spaces where possible;
  • Work to achieve a “no net-loss” tree canopy preservation framework, encouraging the replacement of trees lost to development with new trees planted elsewhere, generally on-site but the Town will consider a suitable alternate site(s).
  • Prioritize the retention and protection of large, healthy trees over replacement plantings and compensation, where possible and with an emphasis on boundary trees;

Do these rules not apply to cutting down 36 healthy, mature trees to make Sixth Street better for cars? The Urban Forest Management Plan also notes:

Long-term Vision The Town of Collingwood values the urban forest and its contribution to the liveability of our community. In addition to the environmental, social, aesthetic and economic benefits of the urban forest, the Town recognizes the importance trees have on health, quality of life, tourism, recreation and green infrastructure. The Town is committed to sustainable management of the urban forest as well as supporting community action and stewardship to maintain, renew and enhance this natural resource for future generations.

Doesn’t it strike you as deeply hypocritical to be cutting down three dozen mature trees you allegedly value? I suspect no one at the council table has bothered to read this particular document, and I also have my doubts about staff. It is, after all, 150 pages long. But it does outline the benefits of trees, and their importance as part of the municipal infrastructure, should anyone at the table take the time to read it.

**** In the article titled Urban forest management in small Ontario municipalities, the authors note, “Urban forests in small municipalities are comparatively poorly managed.” That’s an understatement in Collingwood!

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7 Comments

  1. https://naturecanada.ca/news/press-releases/new-nature-canada-report-addresses-inequality-in-cities-tree-cover/
    New Nature Canada Report Addresses Inequality in Cities’ Tree Cover
    Report includes maps layering urban tree canopy over racialized and marginalized communities and makes recommendations for improving “Tree Equity”.
    “Urban forests are vital to our communities,” says Gauri Sreenivasan, Policy and Campaigns Director at Nature Canada. “But our report shows not all of Canada’s urban population is benefitting equitably. To serve both nature and justice, everyone in Canada should be able to access high-quality nearby nature and all levels of government should work with communities to make this possible; it’s a key part of addressing environmental racism.”

  2. https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/value-of-a-tree-environmental-climate-impact-1.6511142
    How much should a tree be worth? Experts say cities should consider climate-related benefits
    Smaller communities in Canada are ‘often struggling to put a good value on their trees,’ says one expert

    Along a street in Edmonton, mature trees sit protected by a green fence, near the construction of a new light-rail transit line. Signs affixed to the fence show the value of the foliage: A rosybloom crabapple tree is worth $1,389, while nearby a spruce is pegged at $2,185.

    These price tags are somewhat of a common practice in Canada, where an assessment formula is used to determine the monetary value of a tree in case it is damaged or killed.

    But forestry and biology experts say those dollar amounts don’t fully capture the environmental value of trees in an urban landscape — especially as they play an increasingly important role in helping to deal with the effects of climate change.

    Many smaller communities in Canada are “often struggling to put a good value on their trees,” he said, suggesting that finding some easy-to-use methods “that actually show the true value of the trees” will be key going forward.

    The cooling effect that tree canopies can provide is extremely important and valuable, she said. In some cases, mature trees can cool down residential areas by several degrees, compared to streets without a similar tree canopy.

    A 2019 study led by Ziter found that the right amount of tree cover can lower summer daytime temperatures by as much as 10 F.

  3. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-trees-inequality-canada-1.6175204
    In cities, money doesn’t grow on trees, but more trees grow near money
    There’s a strong correlation between low-income areas and fewer trees. What can be done about it?

    A CBC News analysis of data from the City of Montreal and Statistics Canada shows the higher the median income of a neighbourhood, the more extensive the tree cover.

    In other Canadian cities and beyond, researchers are tracking similar dynamics between green space and socioeconomic status, and looking for solutions to address the imbalance.

    “The general pattern is that wealthier areas — more privileged neighbourhoods — tend to have not only higher tree cover, but also a greater diversity of species,” said Carly Ziter, a biology professor at Concordia University in Montreal who specializes in urban ecology.

    “Those patterns do seem to hold in many of our cities.”

  4. https://thefifthestate.com.au/environment/why-some-people-hate-trees-and-5-ways-to-love-them/
    Why some people hate trees and 5 ways to love them

    According to Dr Greg Moore, chair of TREENET [Tree and Roadway Experimental and Educational Network], many people don’t understand their value.

    Trees can also reduce the impacts of high rainfall events because they can absorb up to 40 per cent of rainfall, reducing flows into stormwater systems and the degree of local flooding. They also reduce soil erosion and therefore sediments entering water systems.

    Planning laws have also played a part in disappearing trees, Moore notes, as front and back yards have become smaller and denuded of canopy.

    Moore says state governments have historically considered urban trees a local government matter – however, now that health costs are kicking in, states recognise they have a vested interest.

  5. https://pressbooks.pub/sustainabilitymethods/chapter/the-role-of-municipalities-in-advancing-sustainability/

    When done properly, comprehensive plans serve to bring the community and municipal government together from a collaborative planning approach. Not every citizen is a primary stakeholder for a town or city’s comprehensive plan but having an open approach to finding solutions is critical for the best results. Not all municipalities have comprehensive plans, but they are necessary to mitigate present problems as well as to plan for the future. Communities who have a comprehensive plan provide a unique framework for building social, economic, and environmental resiliency within the community parameters.

    Ten basic principles of Smart Growth:

    1. Mix land uses
    2. Take advantage of compact building design
    3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
    4. Create walkable neighborhoods
    5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
    6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
    7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities
    8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
    9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
    10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.
  6. https://www.collingwoodtoday.ca/local-news/council-reluctantly-approves-sixth-st-tree-replacement-plan-8975660

    Council “reluctantly” approves Sixth St. tree replacement plan
    Reluctantly? Bullshit. They are doing this because a MAJORITY wanted to chop down mature trees. They were happy to vote for it. *THIS* is how they treat residents. They let the pro-vehicle/anti-resident planners in town hall win their bid to make Sixth Street a speedway for more traffic, more noise, and more pollution.
    The anti-environmentalists on Town of Collingwood Council have won. Hypocrites all. They are ruining our town. And their “replacement” plan is more bullshit: this town NEVER replaces trees it cuts down from the boulevard.
    Collingwood deserves better.

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