Though we might still have six more weeks of winter, it is never too early to start dreaming and planning for the spring planting season. Angela Keller-Herzog invites readers to participate in the development of a Glebe Community Vision that will act as a guide to the Glebe Community Association’s responses to development applications, reviews of zoning bylaws and other urban planning initiatives. Kathi Elborn gives us an update on the Glashan schoolyard greening project and encourages interested parties to help with fundraising efforts. Let’s go green in twenty fifteen!
Tall trees and boulevards: A Glebe community vision
By Angela Keller-Herzog
Winter is a good time to dream. And maybe dreams can turn into plans come spring. Nice thought, you (the partially engaged reader) say. Everybody likes trees – not exactly controversial. I’m sure that Ottawa Forestry Services is taking care of that.
Think again. Let’s open our eyes to the evidence. The majestic trees are disappearing – and not just the elm trees on Clemow Avenue, but everywhere – arterial streets, residential roadsides and backyards. Our good forester people are trying – and Forestry Services staff seems well-informed, competent, eager – but they are losing the battle bit by bit, outflanked by other priorities, budget constraints and lack of serious tree bylaw enforcement. It is time to ask searching questions about our vision as a community and the steps it will take to get there.
Treed heritage takes work
It turns out that many cities around the world have treed heritage, well-established stewardship institutions and fierce pride in their heritage trees, urban canopy and treed boulevards. When I mentioned to a houseguest (Marco from Turin in northern Italy) that the Glebe Report had invited me to write on this subject, he enthusiastically responded. “Oh yes, in my city, since the time of the Savoy kingdom, we have had a special office dedicated to the management of trees and this is taken extremely seriously by citizens. Two minutes later the link to the Torino office of Patrimonio e Verde lands in my inbox with a suggestion to call the Deputy Councillor responsible for heritage trees in Turin for some advice and suggestions. Well … yes, thank you … let me just brush up on my Italian … and figure out why trees in the Glebe seem to be not keeping up with the Italians.
Now let us regard Bank Street – the proud “boulevard” running through the Glebe. There was intent to include trees in the urban design and plan for the Bank street reconstruction – both the BIA and the community association put this forward in consultations. Three years later, the evidence is disappointing and certainly not a point of civic pride. According to a survey undertaken by the Environment Committee of the Glebe Community Association in June 2014, of the 60 trees planned for the Glebe portion of Bank Street reconstruction, 41 per cent are dead, almost dead or missing (never planted as planned).
The urban environment is pretty hostile to trees. Trees need light, water and nutrients. They also need space above ground for the canopy, space on the roadside for a tree well and space underground for their extensive roots to collect water and nutrients. Trees also need protection: from casual damage to the bark (bike parking, vandalism, debris storage); from radical changes to their habitat (think First Avenue reconstruction where the grade of the street was lowered, with massive impact on tree roots); from doses of salt and dog urine; and even from highly confining Christmas tree lights.
We can connect the needs of trees to the urban planning process and practice in Ottawa. There is probably more than one reason why so many of those trees on Bank Street are dead. We have a long way to go before Bank Street in the Glebe is a treed boulevard and a place of arboreal pride.
Our neighbourhood streets
While the state of trees on Bank Street is a special eyesore (and heart-sore for some), happenings on our residential side streets are also worrisome. Trees in our neighbourhood are aging and every storm seems to bring down one or two of the old fellows. This is a natural loss, but it follows the past devastation by Dutch elm disease and, more recently, the emerald ash borer. The ash borer alone has cost about 15 per cent of our canopy of mature trees in the Glebe. But surely these majestic trees are being replanted over time? Perhaps with more species diversity? The answer is mostly no – the succession plan is not replacing our canopy. Instead we are seeing a preponderance of short ornamental trees, and predominantly non-native. Serviceberry and Japanese Lilac – very popular with Forestry Services – grow to a height of three to four metres and will decidedly not turn into cathedral arches towering over our streets.
Whose vision is it that we should replace tall and statuesque trees with dwarf trees and shrubs? Were we consulted on this preference for urban shrubbery? It is not in the interest of beautification. It is not maintaining the character of the neighbourhood. It is not investing in quality of life, health and social benefits of urban trees, which accrue more, the larger the trees. Tall leafy trees can be natural air-conditioners – reducing AC bills by 30 to 40 per cent, and lowering summer street temperatures by more than 5 degrees. And while we are considering the economic perspective – mature and stately trees result in 10 to 15 per cent higher property values. It is only a short-sighted interest and limited cost-savings perspective that finds these small trees cheaper and easier to plant, prune and remove.
There are more technical and nitty-gritty questions for the urban planners as well:
In the planning of the street reconstruction process, when is it decided how much underground space is given to tree roots? Or are trees always the residual claimants of underground space for root development (i.e. always the losers) in any such change?
In the planning of sidewalks, who decides how much rainwater catchment the urban tree well gets? We know that from a storm water management point of view we would like to have generous tree wells, and obviously trees need access to rainwater. So who, what, when and why is it decided that some trees in Ottawa get no tree well at all?
When planting trees on street allowances, why is it that hydro and telephone wires have a dominant pride of place, and that where there are wires, there cannot be tall trees? Should there not be a cost benefit analysis of how tall, green infrastructure can coexist with other utilities? Why it may be worth it to prune or train a tree? A hydro pole does not afford much habitat for local biodiversity, squirrels notwithstanding. Would it be crazy to think about a planning requirement that, where we have wires (grey infrastructure) on one side of the street, we allocate space for tall trees (green infrastructure) on the other side?
We are very happy that the City Forestry Services has an emerald ash borer replacement program. Is it keeping up with the emerald ash borer? What proactive tall tree strategies exist to encourage residents to replace the many backyard ash trees that have fallen victim to the disease?
When street trees in our residential areas die of old age, disease or climate adversity (the ice storms or droughts that climate change presages), is there a succession planning policy that sees proactive replacement of these giants among us? Or better yet, a strategy of forward investment where we increase the canopy in the urban core of Ottawa? We have heard about Ecology Ottawa’s “Tree Ottawa” campaign to plant a million trees for Canada’s 150th birthday – is there an implementation plan with the City Forestry Services?
In the building planning and permits process, when existing trees are affected by new developments or when new spaces are developed, are arborists or urban foresters involved? Is there a tree component to the discussion on how to “fine-tune” the infill strategy? Or are the trees the last to get planned in? And then … well, there might not be space any longer for a tall majestic tree … so perhaps we will go with a Serviceberry, Japanese Lilac or at most a Hackberry.
Why is it that the average lifespan of a City of Ottawa urban tree is seven years when trees can live 50, 100, even 200 years and more, depending on the species? Does our city have technical specifications and standards on how contractors must plant trees and write these into its contracts? Are there guidelines to ensure that Ottawa is keeping up with best practices on how tall trees and buildings and other urban structures can coexist?
Why are the trees along one side of Bank Street all the same species? Why does the City give you a menu of only 10 trees to choose from when you access the Trees in Trust program – when it is clear that the resilience of our urban forest will only increase with species and genetic diversity?
Finally, what are the barriers and limitations to developing green boulevards for our main arteries? The stream of benefits (“eco-system services”) provided by trees increases with the size of trees. Is there not a cost benefit study that puts a value on the health, environmental, social and economic benefits that tall trees provide?
Let’s think ahead too for the coming Bronson Avenue reconstruction project. Are we planning a bleak, grey transport corridor or a welcoming green one?
The Glebe Community Association’s Planning Committee is looking to develop a Glebe Community Vision that will act as a guide to the GCA in responding to development applications, reviews of zoning bylaws and other urban planning initiatives. It seems an excellent time to put forward considerations that give pride of place to tall, statuesque trees in our neighbourhood. Large old trees are as much part of our neighbourhood as large old houses or long-standing businesses. They need to be included as we articulate a vision for our community.
In future editions of the Glebe Report we can pursue, discuss and learn the answers to these questions. My Italian visitor shared with me that his local newspaper, La Stampa, has a regular column dedicated to trees. Let’s keep up with the Italians, I say. Thank you to Suman Gupta (Tree Initiative of Ecology Ottawa) for research support.
Angela Keller-Herzog is co-chair of the Environment Committee of the Glebe Community Association. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Glashan schoolyard greening update
By Kathi Elborn
In the bleakness of urban Ottawa in midwinter, it’s admittedly tough to visualize a thriving green yard at Glashan Public School. Good thing the Glashan Green Team has just that kind of imagination. Actual trees and plants may be lying dormant right now, but our plans are germinating and sprouting along nicely!
OCDSB’s tender for Phase 1 of the Glashan Schoolyard Greening Project was sent to 11 pre-qualified contractors in December, and three bids were received. The contract was awarded to the lowest compliant, competitive bid, Rockcliffe Landscaping. We look forward to partnering with them as they transform our paper plans into reality. We are excited that with the spring thaw, work will get underway and the hard work of planning, organizing and fundraising gives rise to glorious greening come June!
Which brings us to … the $39 thousand dollar question! Will we undertake the full or partial scope of work this spring? The Rockcliffe bid is to complete the base contract of Areas A & B. Area A is the north side of the school along Arlington Avenue and Area B is the south side along Catherine Street. The full scope of Phase 1 groundwork includes these two base areas plus three more landscape areas (so-called “optional” components of the contract). Refer to http://glashangreening.ca/the-plan/#Detailed for the specifics. With our successful fundraising to date, we have enough to complete Areas A and B and at least one more area. To complete the full scope of Phase 1 (all five areas of work), we have an estimated funding gap of $39,000 (assuming that we receive $25,000 from a pending grant application to OCDSB).
Attention, creative fundraising types! We need our Glashan Greening supporters now more than ever. Our goal is to raise $39,000 by April to allow Rockcliffe Landscaping to move forward with the full scope of the groundwork. The Glashan Green Team meets the first Monday of each month. Join us and share ideas you have for events or initiatives that could help us raise this amount. If you know of, or have a connection with, any companies that may want to donate to our project, please let us know. We are also looking for a volunteer interested in pursuing the noise abatement issue. Information is available to share, including past noise studies and work done to date, to help get you started.
Two More Murals Installed
Two additional murals depicting a tall tree and garden scene now grace the east side exterior wall facing Bank Street, adding a splash of colour that contrasts sharply with the grey skies and slushy streets of winter. These murals were funded by community donations and a big contribution from an anonymous corporate donor through Evergreen. This generous company valued the artistic component of the overall schoolyard revitalization so much that they earmarked a part of their donation for art.
Contact GlashanGreening@gmail.com to get involved. Keep up-to-date on our progress and plans by visiting our website (www.GlashanGreening.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/glashangreeningproject).
Kathi Elborn is responsible for Glashan Green Team communications.