A central principle of placemaking is to do your place thinking in place. Get out, into the shared public places you are talking about, to create meaningful plans for their future. That was the approach that a group of Fairfield residents used in learning more about their neighbourhood tree canopy.
On Saturday, March 25, Fairfield resident Nicole Chaland invited City Parks staff Rob Hughes and Greg Staniforth to lead a walk through the neighbourhood. 30 people (from toddlers to elders) walk, looked, listened, learned, and asked questions.
Along Cook St, near the Village, we admired large Horse Chestnuts that provide a lovely shade canopy. Here, the wide boulevard allows for large trees.
On adjacent residential streets, this being spring, we talked about the flowering trees like Purple Leaf Plums and Ornamental Flowering Cherries. As part of its Urban Forest Master Plan (2013), the City is moving away from monoculture plantings, alternating species to improve the overall resilience and diversity of the tree canopy.
Tree succession is a constant focus of the Parks department. Species that were planted 50-100 years ago are reaching the ends of their lives and need to be replaced. When that happens, decisions have to be made about the best replacement species.
About 20% of Fairfield is currently covered by tree canopy (defined as trees that are seen in an aerial photograph), whereas some informal guidelines for urban areas suggest 40% coverage. Many of those trees are on private property and the City has limited control over tree removal. While a single mature tree can easily have a environmental value of $40,000, a property owner taking one down only pays a $700 fee to the City. It costs at least $1200 for the City to plant, water and monitor a new tree planting.
The walk was a clear example of how helpful citizen-led place-based activities work. Everyone learns. Conversation is non-confrontational and staff are able to speak more frankly. People meet neighbours. And, of course, the information can feed into other processes – in this case, the Fairfield Gonzales Local Area Plan and upcoming revisions to parks bylaws.
A few weeks ago, Mark Albany of the Songhees First Nation led a very interesting and educational walk through parts of the Songhees traditional territories in what is now Beacon Hill Park. In the spirit of the Songhees oral traditions, we took no notes from that walk – but highly recommend it if you get the chance to participate in a similar outing.