Brookman: City's rezoning push at odds with desire to preserve trees

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Calgarians love their trees. Look at any picture from the late 1800s and you will see that the landscape encompassing our city was, for all intents and purposes, bald prairie.

One could suggest that someone planted every tree we enjoy now, and the massive trees that create an urban forest in many of our older districts were undoubtedly put there by new homeowners starting in the 1900s.

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There are an estimated seven million trees within the borders of Calgary and, as every local gardener knows, each has to be nourished, trimmed and loved. Anyone with large trees on their property is proud of them, and many talk about them on radio gardening shows or write about them in newspapers and gardening books.

The City of Calgary has rules about tree removal on “city-owned” land and is investigating options for encouraging the preservation of trees on private land.

Most people, however, do not need more rules from city hall to take care of their trees. In fact, as can be seen when driving around the city, it is often the trees in city parks and pocket boulevards that seem to be the most neglected.

In Vancouver, we are overwhelmed by the number of trees that line every roadway and the efforts to maintain them. But in our city on the prairies, it does seem as if we are more anxious to remove trees than we are to nurture them and adjust to living around them.

Calgarians and the city itself invest thousands of dollars every year in new trees. Those that are planted along sidewalks or busy roadways are left to struggle and fend for themselves. Trees on commercial land, along Macleod Trail, for example, appear neglected by the businesses that could maintain them with a minimum of effort. I asked the city about this and was told the theory is that after a tree has been planted and minimally cared for over three years, it then must survive on its own. Looking out my office window, I can see clear evidence of trees that needed more than three years of maintenance. On occasion, I have grabbed a hoe and clippers and tried to improve the look and the health of trees on city land.

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In a recent Herald article, we learned that there has been a decline in the size of Calgary’s urban forest and the city wants to become more stringent in enforcing the rules around removing trees on private property. Of course, that only seems to apply in locations where city council has not decided to remove an old bungalow and replace it with high-density housing that extends almost to the property lines. In many of those areas where two infills have been developed on a 50-foot lot, it has been possible to save all or most of the trees. But in this new density concept — oblivious to history or the value of community — the trees get bulldozed to cram as many people as possible onto lots.

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Trees are just one more example of the loss that communities are experiencing because of this city council and its inability or unwillingness to listen to citizens. How much more evidence does this group need to understand that a majority simply oppose blanket rezoning? Why would an elected council, charged with running the city, choose to be so closed-minded about the will of the people who put them into office?

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The example of the trees illustrates how this explosion of density is affecting communities in so many ways. Previously tree-lined streets now have buildings crushed up against the sidewalk to increase density. In many cases, front lawns are gone or are so small that the grass, if it grows, could be trimmed with scissors.

The public hearing on blanket zoning is April 22. Many people are convinced that a majority of council has already made up their minds and this hearing is an exercise in futility.

Hopefully, that is not true.

George H. Brookman is chair and company ambassador of West Canadian Digital.

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