City Hall, while delivering us bike paths, seems to have fallen in love with concrete and black top—and out of love with trees and beauty.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
—“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
RECENTLY, I STOPPED TO CHAT with a City of Victoria worker. He’d come with a mate to grind up the roots of a magnificent tree the City had recently cut down. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Looking at the stump, we knew the tree had been healthy.
“Why was it taken down?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Could have been the roots were getting into the sewers.”
We both looked down the street, which is lined on both sides with large trees. How odd this tree next to the corner lot had to go. Maybe this tree was in the way of a planned development as it was in front of a house that is now for sale. Developers seem to hate trees, so maybe someone acted quickly to get the tree out of the way.
It’s not just in my neighbourhood that large trees are disappearing; huge trees are coming down, some in the middle of the night, all over the city. Large trees capture and hold far more carbon than the new slender plantings.
The city worker and I then shifted our conversation to the matter of concrete. We agreed a sea of concrete has begun to invade Victoria. Perfectly good curbs have been broken up to be replaced by identical curbs. Sidewalks, for instance, now line the west side of Ross Bay Cemetery and the north edge of May Street, despite there being sidewalks on the other side of the streets that pedestrians would and do favour. And everywhere islands of concrete are appearing in the midst of roadways. We all know trees are an urban solution to slowing traffic, but in Victoria the new solution seems to be blobs concrete.
Just one of the re-worked intersections along Vancouver Street.
If you haven’t been to Victoria in a dozen years, check out the Victoria entrance to the White (Elephant) Bridge that replaced the Blue Bridge downtown. It is a sea of concrete blobs and black top.
New visitors will also note the bicycle lanes—the many, many bike lanes have been placed on streets that were never frequented by bikers. I, like most riders, prefer quiet, back streets. These lanes, a copy of those in London, England, seem to necessitate more concrete, such as the elaborate, vast network of the material seen at the junction of Bay and Vancouver Streets.
The City of Victoria won an award for its bike lanes. The trees, the ground, the aesthetically inclined, and the planet itself have paid an enormous price for it.
According to the think tank Chatham House, cement, the key ingredient of concrete, is “the source of about eight percent of the world’s carbon dioxide.” Furthermore, it has been estimated that were “the cement industry to be a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world, just behind China and the US.”
The present occupants of Victoria City Hall, while delivering us bike paths, seem to have fallen in love with concrete and black top—and out of love with trees and beauty. It’s either that or I worry someone in City Hall has a vested interest we don’t know about.
We’ve paved our paradise and, in so doing, we’ve lost it.
The city worker told me his ancestors came to Victoria in the 1840s. They fell in love with the city. He now can’t wait to retire. As soon as he does, he and his wife are moving to the interior. They want to reacquaint themselves with trees and see the ground again. I want to go with them.
Moira Walker is a retired Camosun College instructor. An oral storyteller, she’s told stories at The Flame, UNO Festival, and Royal BC Museum. She’s about to complete an MFA from the University of King’s College in Halifax, NS.