Can't see the trees for the subdivisions

Brian
Brian Jones
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It's construction season, and developers are full out in their efforts to uglify St. John's and its commuter outports (Torbay, Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, etc.).

Inexplicably, the regional housing boom has become a source of pride in some circles, sort of like "500 years of history," the tricolour and the alleged genetic grit of trueborn Newfoundlanders.

It's construction season, and developers are full out in their efforts to uglify St. John's and its commuter outports (Torbay, Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, etc.).

Inexplicably, the regional housing boom has become a source of pride in some circles, sort of like "500 years of history," the tricolour and the alleged genetic grit of trueborn Newfoundlanders.

But take a look at what it's doing to the area, and there are few reasons to be proud of the current housing bonanza.

Environment, anyone?

You'd almost never know there's a longstanding and growing environmental awareness among Canadians, judging by the extensive destruction done with excavators and bulldozers in the name of real estate. Clear-cutters in British Columbia would be proud.

Substantial swaths of forest (some might say "bush" or "brush") have been decimated to create new subdivisions on the edge of St. John's. Looking at the land now, you might erroneously conclude it is incapable of growing anything other than pavement, concrete and two-car driveways.

Building on beauty

The suburban blight doesn't end at the city limits. The formerly wild and scenic Indian Meal Line will soon be an unbroken string of houses between Torbay and Portugal Cove-St. Philip's. In the latter town, they are not content to merely haul away trees - they're busily digging into hillsides in the frenzy to create building lots.

Clearing a lot prior to construction is fairly standard procedure, of course. It allows speedy and efficient construction. Landscaping can come later.

This approach may be economically beneficial for developers, but the rest of us don't have to like it. For all the talk about heritage and history, there sure is plenty of destruction of both going on.

There are exceptions to the decimation. Occasionally, you'll see a new house being put up on a lot where substantial trees are left standing - proof that such a feat is possible, if the owners and/or builders want to achieve it.

Lessons learned

In St. John's, city council members seem positively enraptured that they are presiding over a boomtown. Fair enough. But they, and politicians in the area's towns, should at least show a willingness to learn from the experience, and mistakes, of others.

Calgary is, and has been, the definitive Canadian boomtown. It has often set a standard for unsightly sprawl that can be challenged only by Mississauga and Scarborough.

But 30 or 40 years into its boom, an interesting trend has emerged on the Prairies. They're actually taking measures to save trees.

New leaf

In Calgary's older neighbourhoods - within a few miles of downtown - developers buy a house for a half million dollars or so, then tear it down. Then they build two houses on the lot. The lots are invariably big, and so are the new houses. Bungalows built in the 1940s or '50s are being replaced by modern, two- or three-story houses that are much more extravagant and, in most cases, attractive.

Many mature trees in those neighbourhoods have colourful plastic ribbons around them. The ribbons are actually signs declaring there is a fine if the tree is removed. They are very precise. For example, a sign will read, "This tree is valued at $12,597.63," and that its removal will result in a corresponding fine.

Granted, a $10,000 or $15,000 fine might not be much of a deterrent when you're talking about million-dollar homes.

But, as with so many things, it's the thought that counts. And it seems to be working. The housing in-fill trend has been happening in Calgary for a decade or more, and its older neighbourhoods are still leafy and green.

Let's hope that in St. John's and surrounding areas, we don't have to wait 20 or 30 years for it to be beautiful again.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's, Torbay, Portugal Cove Calgary British Columbia Mississauga Scarborough

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Recent comments

  • Kurtis
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    It should be mandatory by now for every lawn, front and back, to have at least one tree. If the lawn is bigger then the average then perhaps it should have two trees etc., I just moved at of a house were we had 6 beutiful trees and the people who moved in them all down and i dont no why, it looks terrible.

  • Concerned!
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I think this column is spot on! I'm so glad I'm not alone in my thoughts on the destruction these new developers are causing- and the eyesore.
    For the few negative people out there (I won't name names...) who use comments like tree huggers and to suck it up because it's development and growth and every where else away you see this... etc etc ... it doesn't meant that it's right and that we have to do everything everyone else is doing now does it!? The problem with these developers destroying all the trees is a cause for concern, like one person noted, that the run off of water is a big problem. There is no where for water to go if there is no trees with their deep roots to soak up the water. I've seen homes built (but, not enough) where the trees are left surrounding the new house and I think it's great that there's a few people out there doing that- just not enough.
    I'm from St. John's originally but now live a few hours outside of town where we have found, the now rare bungalow, on a large mature lot surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, there are a few new sub-divisions being built up in the surrounding area and it isn't pretty... even the hillside has been blasted out in one area and when you're driving over the hill admiring the valley next thing your eyes see a hole... literally a black hole that is quickly being filled with postage stamp size lots with minimum space between them. You couldn't give me a new home in one of those sub-divisions anyways cause they're glued and staple-gunned together anyways, but, that's another topic...
    I just hope more people continue to speak up about this topic. It's not saying that we're all against development and growth but, there's no need of it to be downright destructive to the environment- and the eyes.

  • Chris
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Unfortunately, that ship has sailed in Paradise. We could fine people for removing trees, but thanks to developers and council, there are no trees to remove.

    Council talks about additional green space, but when you have high-density subdivisions that cram 250 houses on 50 by 100 lots, there isn't much room for a tree to grow. The development around Adams Pond is a perfect example. And the sad part about this, is that they continue to give the green light for these developments despite saying during the last election campaign - it would slow down.

    The town's five-year Strategic Plan states that Paradise 'does not want to be viewed as a series of large-scale housing developments.' With progressive thinking like that, a tree doesn't stand a chance.

  • Calvin
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Yeah, lets halt construction projects because a few trees are being cut down in St. John's and surrounding areas. Please, it aint gonna stop, though it probably needs to. The least of our worries should be the trees being cut down. Water supplies, infrastructure and things like health/education facilities present a bigger problem than clearing some land right now. You want trees, take a 15 minute drive out over the TCH and there are trees as far as the eye can see. You want rugged wilderness, take a summer vacation to Labrador and let me know how the mosquitoes treated you. For that matter, drive down the burin peninsula, get out of your car passed Swift Current and start walking. It will be Christmas before you reach the urban sprawl going on in St. John's.

  • Les
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    @stop whining

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but you cant do what you want with the lot you buy. City regulations state as much. Try building a three-story barn or shed on your 50 foot lot. Keep farm animals? Nope. Not gonna happen.

    You are right about one thing - the Avalon is booming. If you can get a lot for 50 grand its
    a) not on the NE Avalon or
    b) likely 20 x 50 in size.

    Enjoy your 750 sq ft, $300,000 'house'.

  • Ted
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Right on Brian. Beachy Cove rd. is a prime example of the damage that is takeing place. Wake up Councellors

  • RB
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    There's a simple solution to the problem of destructive, urban sprawl: Stop producing babies!! I realize that in Newfoundland's long, cold winters there is little else to do but dally under the bed clothes, but for God's sake people - the more you do it, the costlier and more destructive it's going to get. I evnvision a future of 100 storey tubular skyscapers housing one room dwellings for each family of ten. Makes for an interesting future. But of course, people will still keep reproducing. That...is a primal disposition you can never stop. How unfortunate

  • stop whining
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    If you pay $50k for a piece of land you are free to do what you want with it. Why would someone keep a load of scraggly old spruce on their lot when they can later replant some nice birch, or pine? Wake up folks. The Avalon is booming, and with it comes the development, drugs and crime. Deal with it, or move. If your elected officials had a clue and understood what 'green space is' you wouldn't be in the mess you are in.

  • Shawn
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I have always admired local developers that keep some mature trees in new residential areas, but I'm sad to say that most developments I've seen lately are just a sea of boxes, free of any character. It's odd that council and the area's residents are quick to voice opinions on downtown development/growth, but allow most of the area's subdivisions to look like any other subdivision anywhere in Canada.

  • Karl
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Down with capitalism! I can feel the proletariat building class consciousness as we speak!

  • Chris
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Unfortunately, that ship has sailed in Paradise. We could fine people for removing trees, but thanks to developers and council, there are no trees to remove.

    Council talks about additional green space, but when you have high-density subdivisions that cram 250 houses on 50 by 100 lots, there isn't much room for a tree to grow. The development around Adams Pond is a perfect example. And the sad part about this, is that they continue to give the green light for these developments despite saying during the last election campaign - it would slow down.

    The town's five-year Strategic Plan states that Paradise 'does not want to be viewed as a series of large-scale housing developments.' With progressive thinking like that, a tree doesn't stand a chance.

  • Heather
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I've been watching the clearing of trees in the Kelsey Drive area from my office window for over 2 years now. The increasing water running into the river and onto Pippy Place is a testament to the damage being done. And within a year or two residents will be spraying their lawns with chemicals because the damage done to the natural soil composition has left it unable to sustain growth. Brilliant.

  • John
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Funny in and around my house I can't keep the maples back. I'm constantly cutting them down only to have them grow back in what seems like months. On a related note, I always find it amusing when someone, usually a media type, usually from upalong,talks about development. This is the most sparsely populated land mass in North America. We have an area the size of California( which supports 36 plus million, more than the entire population of Canada), and we have less than 500,000 people spread across it. We went across the island on the trailway a few years ago, you can drive for days and not see any sign of human encroachment. We have one small part of this enormous island seeing some short lived development and the tree huggers have their drawers in a knot. Only in NL, what a pity.

  • Bob
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    You could have added CBS.

  • Edward
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    It is just another facet of the consumer driven economy. Growth equals money, therefore growth is good. The cost in farmland, forest and water (Sandy Pond)is just the cost of doing business. The long term consequences will be someone elses concern in the decades to come. Soon, we in CBS, Torbay and other rural communities will be seeing the same type of billboard I saw a few years ago in Bolton, north of Toronto, advertising 30, 40 and giant 50 foot lots! .