May 9, 2017
When it comes to preserving trees in Toronto, homeowners in the leafy Lawrence Park area may have found the key to effective advocacy is simply expert research. Very expensive expert research.
On Tuesday morning at city hall, members of the public came to add their voice to the problem of an archaic storm water drainage systems, sidewalks, and some of the oldest trees in the city.
The city has been working on an environmental assessment (EA) for this area, looking at basement floods and road replacement. After years of consultation with the neighbourhood, city staff brought their finished EA to committee for approval before going to council (and then the province). The first draft put 350 trees at risk to be cut; the final assessment is about 100.
Among tree advocates was Phillip Crawley, publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail, representing the Lawrence Park Ratepayers’ Association. He told the committee his group not only hired an arborist, but spent $10,000 on a poll conducted by Forum Research. “Only three out of 10 respondents approved of the city’s plan, mainly because of the damage to the tree canopy,” Crawley said. “Of course people are concerned about safety and speeding cars. But they believe the city can do better than destroy 100 trees or more, and they can do that by making smart choices about where to put new sidewalks.”
Sidewalk support was strongest in the form of lived experience. Child speakers included Ava, Olivia and Beth, who told the committee they don’t feel safe when they walk to school. A caregiver described her perspective. A homeowner welcomed a path through the middle of his front lawn if it would reduce the chance of a fatal injury resulting from a lack of sidewalk.
Chair of the committee and local Councillor Jaye Robinson supports a sidewalk on one particular street in the area, but doesn’t want to see any trees cut down. “When there’s a will, there’s a way… Honestly, I will be there on the street to try and prevent any tree from coming down,” Robinson said. “It’s unnecessary. We have to find a way to be creative to actually still do the reconstruction but save the trees. They’re part and parcel of what Lawrence Park is.”
Robinson said she thinks an acceptable number of trees to be cut down is between zero and 20. “A lot of these trees are very significant to the neighbourhood.”
Preserving the trees could mean reducing the road width or extending the sidewalk to curve around the edge so the base of the tree isn’t affected. One resident said this kind of obstacle-course type set-up could even slow drivers down.
The city will continue consultation with the neighbourhood into the design phase; what is surely an important process in a neighbourhood with so many differing desires for how they want their local streets to look. After the committee concluded, Barbara Gray, general manager of Transportation Services, explained it as differences of position and approaches.
“In neighbourhoods like this one, there are often a lot of people that like to keep it as more informal — the drainage is informal, the roadway is informal, and then there are some that would like to see it more formalized with sidewalks,” she says. “That cross-section — that’s kind of the debate you’re seeing right now. There’s not a consistent opinion, it’s pretty divided.”
City staff confirmed that 33 similar studies, including this one, have already been completed across the city and 26 are remaining.