Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Is a tree in the bush worth more than two in the burbs?

By any account, voter focus on the issues of municipal spending, taxes and crime does not favour many of the incumbents in the upcoming civic election. The response of the London Free Press is then, naturally, to manufacture an entirely spurious issue. The lead story in Monday's Free Press is titled:

Trees could become election issue

For the Free Press, at least, the headline will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as it never contests the self-invested authority of its own importance. Reporters will now be unabashed to add facile and incomprehensible stories about London's trees to their long list of irrelevancies and diversions from which to diffuse attention from the substantive issues with which council is legitimately entrusted and that most directly affect Londoners. Abstractions like the electoral significance of trees may cue the histrionic reflexes of local amateur auto-environmentalists and delight the pedantic appetites of special interest "citizen" groups, like the Urban League of London, for imbuing their pretensions to moral authority with regulatory control, but for the rest of us…

…well, the rest of us will have to pay for them. From the Free Press:

Council voted 16-1 to amend the official plan to make it easier to designate woodlands significant and protected from development.

The move protects an estimated 96 per cent of the 135 woodlands on 1,700 hectares of undeveloped land outside the city's urban growth area.
Joe Belanger, reporter of municipal citizen clamp-down record for the Free Press, mostly elides the fact that the probated — sorry, "protected" is just a friendly-sounding euphemism — woodlands are not the property of the city but privately owned. More tellingly, he entirely elides the regulatory definition of "significant," except to say that the so-designated woodlots would be, in his characteristically un-disinterested manner, "be spared the developer's axe" — which is an interesting omission given the absolute and unarbitrary injunction that the designation would impose on property owners. In fact, the proposition of "significance" is wilfully unquantifiable and inscrutable in direct proportion to the thorough rigidity of the embargo placed on property owners in its service.

As with the pesticide ban earlier this summer, the regulatory utopianism of auto-didactic environmentalism makes its appeal for uncompromising authority over the property of Londoners with the emotional but meaningless rhetoric and vague assertions about London's "lagging" tree coverage, a contention that is dubious from any scientific or elevated visual vantage point.
"We need to be firm and committed to the (Forest City) brand of our city," said Coun. Joni Baechler, who led the push for a new policy.

Baechler's impassioned plea drew applause and cheers from a boisterous gallery of more than 50 onlookers, several carrying signs.

"If we can't be the benchmark for forest coverage, how can we hold that brand," Baechler said. "It's our responsibility to protect that brand."
And, from the previous day,
"Here we sit with the Forest City brand and we're letting our forests decline. If council members are not willing to defend the city's brand, they shouldn't be sitting at the council table."
Why does the city need to "brand" itself? Against what other "brands" is the city competing? Just how much more regulatory authority over private property will need to be ceded to unelected city staff to protect this ineffable "brand?" I don't know how many times Baechler finally ended up repeating the word "brand" during the course of her successful campaign, but its constant reiteration was engineered to rally a pathetic veneer of populist consent that overpowered any meaning to which consent ought to be attached. Consent, that is, among the governed… among the activist groups present, consent to appropriation of other people's property is always met with a customary exuberance. For Baechler's fellow councillors, the clanging populism was only a welcome palliative to the consideration of whether the stridency of special interest groups and its obliging reporting in the Free Press would be a hindrance during the election. Only Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen dissented in favour of the property owners.

In the end, however, neither activists nor councillors have much in the way of qualms about this kind of regulation because the costs are not borne by themselves but by the property owners whose opportunity to profit from their ownership has been abrogated and by aspiring homeowners. It is clear that the use of the impenetrably obscurant credentials of "branding" and the anaesthetizing reflex-triggers of environmentalist key words like "trees" serve a end-around policy subterfuge for urban sprawl containment, the holy grail of civic activists who already have a place to live and who, incidentally, stand to gain from artificial inflation of property prices by restraining outward development.
"It's really puzzling to listen to the anti-environment sentiment that permeates this council," [Urban League of London member Sandy] Levin said. "Once those woodlots are gone and subdivisions put on them, they can't be replaced."
It's even more puzzling that Levin and every other environmental platitudinist fail to recognize that trees grow — as in the trees that suburban homeowners plant and cultivate on their properties without regulatory coercion simply because they happen to like them just as much as any activist, if not so volubly, without any muncipal coercion. Levin and his colleagues might observe this if they ever stepped outside their own Old South and Old North territories of historic urban sprawl.

So, let's hear that tired canard about developers controlling the agenda at city hall again!

While haranguing councillors before the vote over the defense of the city's "brand," Baechler scolded them by saying
"It is our responsibility to protect the city's interests."
Well, just so the rest of Londoners know where they stand in the city's hierarchy of interests and responsibilities!


Anonymous said...

Trees grow? Been to Wal-Mart parking lot lately? It's Goddamn forest!

Anonymous said...

If you have ever been up in one of London’s tall
buildings and had a look at our forest city, lack of
trees does not come to mind. Apparently a well
intended group of activists in London have convinced
its citizens and the media that we have a shortage of
trees. They got together and came up with a bunch of
made-up statistics that said our “forest cover” was
dwindling and in “danger”. I don’t see a shortage
leaves, do you? They take little kids on field trips
and lie to them about a made-up crisis as they scurry
like little terrified victims planting trees in
so-called natural areas that have all but taken over
our open spaces in London. London Hydro spends
millions clearing trees from electrical lines every
week of the year and has an entire department devoted
to doing so. I guess the next time we have an ice
storm we can get Trees For London to get the freaking
tree limb off my ^^$^& service line. What the hell,
instead of having an emergency declared with the next
ice storm, we can have a G.D. festival. Yes, an ICE
A shortage of trees indeed! We annex farm land, devoid
of trees and do what with it; put houses and trees and
shrubs and flowers and lawns on it but this isn’t good
enough for these fear mongers who say we are losing
our “forest canopy”. Just what the hell do they want?
Go to Springbank Park just as an example and look what
they have done. Every square inch apart from the
soccer fields are being covered with trees. The picnic
areas are slowly being planted with trees from the
outside edges. Our great grandchildren won’t be able
to throw a Frisbee.
Every new home that is built MUST have a tree put in
front of it on the boulevard. It’s a bylaw. We won the
prestigious Arboriculture Award For Urban Forestry
last year and came in first the year before at the
Communities In Bloom competition. The judges are a
little miffed and of course the media didn’t even
mention it at all because they are part of the
so-called crisis.