Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

A regular commentary on civic affairs in London, Canada by journalist Philip McLeod.

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A long way from green

LATEST REPORT #1,144: One of the goals for London, as determined by its city council, is to become the Greenest City in Canada. Enroute to that we still see fit to demand citizens cut down trees now that someday could – could, mind you – distract motorists from seeing a stop sign. 

Monday, March 21, 2016 – LondonOntario

Good day, and welcome to spring. 

Perhaps in anticipation, at its last meeting before City Hall emptied for the annual March Break, city council’s civic works committee unanimously passed a motion to ask the administration to review bylaws “governing landscape material on boulevard areas and report back . . . with options to permit rain gardens, mulch and hard mulch materials.”

See item 14 in these minutes.

Ironically, at just about the same moment representatives of the civic administration were visiting, once again, properties on Trevithen Street , just west of Wellington Road in south London, with a threat to cut down 21 small trees that are, allegedly, blocking, or could someday block, clear access to stop signs.

Sometimes, it seems, the more London’s ruling class proclaims its wishes to become Canada’s Greenest City the more its bureaucratic arm thwarts citizen attempts to help us do just that.

The property on Trevithen that seems to bother City Hall most is located at number 69. It is owned by Cory Morningstar, an environmentalist and citizen activist whose Twitter handle provides a clue: @elleprovocateur.

Whatever your point of view about these things, Ms. Morningstar has without doubt London’s most unusual and intriguing yard. And that includes the boulevards – yes, two of them because her property sits on the corner of Trevithen and Raywood Avenue.

Virtually every square centimetre of her property, including the boulevards in front and to the side is covered with flowering plants, shrubs, and trees both small and large. There is no grass, not a single blade. 

In the late spring, summer and early fall, when everything is growing and green and often in bloom, hers is a gorgeous property to visit, a refreshing and uplifting change from the otherwise yard after yard of boring green grass so many Canadian urbanites seem to favour.

Ms. Morningstar loves her garden, and she works it every day, weeding and hoeing and planting and relocating and pruning.

It’s not a love shared by everyone, however, and in particular over the years by officials at City Hall who seem forever determined to find ways to trim her back. This time it’s some – not all – of the trees on the boulevard. These could – could, mind you – represent a distraction to motorists approaching the four-way stop at the corner of Trevithen and Raywood.

It’s not a busy intersection. While Ms. Morningstar and I stood outside for an hour one morning a few weeks ago talking about the latest edict from City Hall, three cars and two buses went past. 

In the 20 years Ms. Morningstar has lived in her house she doesn’t recall there ever being an accident at that intersection. Nevertheless, it boasts eight stop signs, two facing each direction. 

As Ms. Morningstar remarked, “You’d have to be blind not to see the stop signs even with the trees, and then of course you shouldn’t be driving anyway.” She laughed. 

Admittedly, there is a bylaw regarding boulevards, which are owned by the city. They are supposed to be grass, except for the portion required for a residential driveway. And there is a bylaw about that, too.

The motion the civic works committee passed – and which is on the agenda for city council’s meeting Tuesday – came after a letter from Councillor Virginia Ridley.

“Many Londoners are looking for options in landscaping to be sustainable, low-maintenance and aesthetically pleasing,” Ms. Ridley said in the letter. 

In actual fact, many Londoners have not waited for City Hall to act. All over the city are examples of alternatives to lawn. Ms. Morningstar’s is probably most extreme example, and she will readily admit it is not low-maintenance. But it is sustainable; it does provide food for her family and habitat for all sorts of wild critters. And it does reduce her summer cooling costs to zero. 

A green city is one where all sorts of alternative environmental ideas and solutions are tolerated, where the notion of nature is embraced in all its freedom and glory, and occasionally, mess. A green city is not uptight. And it sure as heck would not put a stop sign ahead of a tree, certainly not when the avowed goal of London is to plant one million trees over the next 10 years.

Sadly, no matter how much we wish it was so, London is not a green city. Long way from it, actually.