Backyard Thoughts: Nature and Development
By Rimi Plaha
I’m sitting outside on the balcony of my parent’s house as I type this blog post. The balcony faces the quiet backyard, where my family and I enjoy spending time reading, having afternoon tea, or dinner throughout the summer. Each time I look over the backyard, to the surrounding properties, I cannot help but picture what this area looked like a year ago when the adjacent lands were alive with magnificent red cedars, giant Douglas firs, spruces, willows, birches, and alders. The presence of these trees was comforting. It provided a sense of escape into nature, and they were a curtain from the messiness of the city. There would be sightings of deer, skunk, and a variety of birds. I would gaze at the beauty of the cedars and be lost in the details of the life processes that took place to grow these impressive trees. It was meditation – silently watching these giants as I sipped my lemonade or afternoon chai on a summer weekend. In the winter, the stillness that came from the snow that lay heavy on the branches, contrasting with the red bark and the evergreens was a special sight. They were strong trees, iconic of the Lower Mainland.
Two years ago, the City put up that green sign - “Development Proposal”. Next, the City allowed all of those trees to be cut down for the development by declaring each one a “hazard tree” to justify their actions. The scent of the cedars that lay chopped in pieces overwhelmed the neighbourhood. The neighbours rejoiced – saying they were glad they no longer had to put up with clearing the leaves of the alders that would drop on their backyard.
I was not surprised. I knew someday soon those trees would disappear because the land is not zoned as park land. I had slowly been preparing myself to lose the precious backyard oasis that I was lucky to have.
Today, the backyard view of the forest has been replaced by that of a construction site for multiple mega houses. These luxurious giant homes, clustered side by side with little or no space for front or backyards, have replaced many of the previously forested and undeveloped lands of this city, and many of the smaller, more humble-sized houses. These giants are now the iconic features of this land, over the Douglas firs and the other giant trees. This city was once called the “City of Parks”, and is now known officially as the “Future Lives Here”.
As I look over the landscape, I am reminded that change is inevitable. Housing must be constructed for this rapidly growing area, because of course, the future lives here. I wonder though, if the housing should be in the form of opulent mega homes. These homes are unsustainable in many ways due to issues such as energy usage, land usage, and increased traffic in ill-equipped areas. Beyond these issues, I also wonder if the future must involve re-shaping the landscape so drastically that one can no longer feel at home.
Rimi Plaha’s passion for nature and science has guided her to pursue a career in environmental engineering. Rimi graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Environmental Engineering and enthusiastically began working in the contaminated sites and remediation field as an Engineer-in-Training. Alongside learning how to live a little more sustainably every day, Rimi enjoys thrifting, painting and working on do-it-yourself projects. She feels energized by spending time outdoors, and dreams of a reality in which the natural environment and vital ecosystems have been well preserved.