By K. Taylor, Aurora ON. My husband still secretly pines for an oak tree. A big, beautiful, majestic oak tree. He’s leaning towards a red oak as he’s always loved them. We planted one at the old house, right out on the sprawling lawn of our post-war bungalow. I suspect he still drives by from time to time, just to see how its getting on, say hello, pop in for a chat.
The problem of course is that we are no longer the proud owners of that sprawling lawn. We moved. Overall it was a good move, closer to the Aurora Community Arboretum, loads of parks and a house the perfect size for us. But the backyard is more charming and cosy than sprawling. Hence the problem of the oak. Those things get big.
Now personally I adore all trees; and I can see the majesty in an oak. But in fifty years when the roots are in the basements and it has blocked out the entire sun, no one will thank us. We need to make a decision that will work for us now, and for others down the road.
There has been a lot of chatter lately about building and zoning and by this point I’m often zoning out myself; but bear with me. This rather drawn out, long winded, musing was all brought to my attention recently because of a McDonald’s coming to our neighbourhood. What does McDonald’s have to do with the majestic oak tree? Not much, as it happens, but that’s the nature of musings – they’re as scattered as town planning back in the seventies and eighties.
And that willy-nilly planning is why opposition by concerned residents is a really good idea. I’m most certainly not opposed to opposition. But I’m partial to the well thought out, altruistic variety. Are we paving over sensitive green space? Tree huggers unite! That’s what I say. Though I suppose its not so much the trees Aurora needs to look after but grassy wetlands and arable farmland. Which would make for a much muddier hug, though no less noble. I hereby extend my most grateful thanks to those who have not only led the charge but who don’t zone out when the change of zoning notices go up. We need the people who put up their hands and point out that new subdivisions require greater town infrastructure; that farmlands feed cities, not paved roads; that we need to consider housing density. “Oh yeah,” say the rest of us scratching our heads. “Good point.” These are well thought out, reasonable points of opposition. Smug pats on the back to all ye who fit the bill, I wish I were as on the ball.
But I get that neck tingling, twitchy tick feeling when we come to the other opposition. That sneaky little critter that crawls into your ear, nuzzles in and whispers it’s subtle message while you’re washing the car or trying to doze on the GO train; Not In My Back Yard.
Nimbyism is a community organizer; a rallying cry. People bake cookies in its name which they bring to backyard meetings. They commiserate over coffee, about shared wrongs which would actually be quite lovely if it weren’t for the fact that it isn’t lovely at all.
In the end it sort of boils down to two words; property value. Canadians, myself included, follow property values like a hawk scanning the land. Scurrying to the computer when a comparable house is put on the market. “Their floors are nicer, but our kitchen is done …” We furrow brows and scrutinize the listing, mulling the information like a fine wine. “So our house should go for about the same. Score!” Some quick mental math (which apparently now is actually a thing; used to be we just called it doing it in our heads.) And before you can stop yourself you’re doing the happy dance in front of a couple of bemused and slightly scared kids. Or perhaps that’s just me.
Anyway, it makes sense. Our houses are worth oodles of dollars and are our main assets. We have a lot invested in them and we don’t want anything coming between us and our hard-earned (some cynical sorts might say ’lucky’) equity. But those cynical sorts might also point out that this leads us to be just the tiniest bit self-serving.
Do I want a McDonald’s down the street? No, not particularly, though it’s my waistline I’m thinking of. But that land was there before I lived here; before anyone lived here actually, other than a couple of rabbits and field mice. Buyer beware: things change. Empty scrubland is built on. Schools close. Schools never open at all. Churches burn. Some of these are heartbreaking, others merely part of the evolving life of a town.
The land in question was always going to turn into something. And if there was concern exactly what that might be, then perhaps it should have impacted buying decisions … just sayin‘. Though it may not be in my particular best interest, Council did right to make the choices that they felt are in the best interest of the whole Town, both now and years into the future.
Are they the right choices? I don’t know. What I do know is that the arguments I heard never delved past stinky hamburger smells, and that just isn‘t enough. What I do know is we can’t keep appeasing residents who just don’t like something. Not without reasoned, well thought out arguments for why it really is the best choice for the Town, not just a few property values.
Which brings me back to that Oak in our backyard. I’m still pushing for something a little more compact. Yes, we love oaks. Yes, we would enjoy it now. Yes, by the time the thing is burrowing into basements and conking the neighbours on the head with dropped acorns we’ll be partaking of the zumba classes at a local retirement home. But shouldn’t we be giving as much thought to the people who come after us as we do to our own selves? Should we really plant a tree because it‘s what we want, not considering its overall impact? Not in my backyard.