The call for trees

July 7, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

If I were running for Mayor, one policy would be a headliner for me: trees in parking lots.

Maybe it takes time to recognize the misuse of land, to really penetrate our brains before we begin to wonder why and how to at least mitigate the harm. One of the worst land uses is the huge parking lots on the outskirts of towns, paving access to individual shops. Acres of parking lots. Not like the little lots in downtown Orangeville, barely keeping up with demand.

Money of course, money. It is cheaper to build several mediocre buildings around a vast parking lot than it is to create one reasonably safe structure that houses a great many shops, like the Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens, Square One. They were built decades ago but they considered customers’ convenience of parking once and being able to stay indoors, out of rain or Canadian winter.

More recently, malls dismiss these comforts so that the customer still has to drive and park more than once and brave the harsher elements between running separate errands.

So: here is my proposal. That Town Council pass by-laws insisting that large, privately owned parking lots be planted with trees, widening the islands dividing the parking spaces sufficiently to accommodate trees.

My suggestion is to plant well established trees able to withstand the shock of transplanting and thrive in their new locations. There must be sufficient buffers to protect the trees from vehicles hitting them.

The actual owners of the property on which the parking spaces stand, be they the developers or the major commercial business, will be wholly responsible for the installation of the trees. Tenants will not contribute to the cost. Large corporations’ profits are rising and the cost of such projects can be easily tolerated.

The benefits of this plan are numerous. Parking lots are very hot in summer and trees will supply much needed shade. Some lots have a very small tree count around their perimeters and the race to catch those places makes this argument true. 

Tree planting everywhere is essential in the battle against the climate crisis and that should not be dismissed as there being too few trees overall to matter.

Even though this does not help with the inconvenience, every tree matters.

In a conversation with fellow columnist, Doug Skeates, who as a retired forester concerns himself very much with the importance of tree planting, wherever and whenever, he reminded us that “trees have a lot to do with ground water and providing shade.” When we suggested that some could be fruit trees, he commented further that “fruit production has a good ecological purpose…”

Said he, “I don’t care what the reason is, planting trees at all is a good thing.”

Currently, we note that new construction, new buildings are not beautiful.

Are we not so lucky that Orangeville is a vintage town, with so many beautiful vintage buildings?

New houses are meticulously identical and generally built to the lowest standards the law allows. Our larger shops are box stores which require zero imagination and have nothing aesthetic to offer the eye.

Luckily, ours is a town of artists who do all they can to make up for the paucity of beauty in new construction by creating beauty elsewhere. The well-established neighbourhood in the centre of Orangeville are tree-lined streets and many homes have pleasant gardens but the new outer areas are stark, treeless and gardening appears not to be in fashion. We have some good parks and the Island Lake Conservation Area immediately the other side of Highway 10.

Yet whether a person takes advantage of the local parks; drives, parks and pays a fee to enjoy the merits of ILCA or strolls under the trees of one of our central streets, trees in parking lots are a definite plus in the otherwise unappealing experience of shopping in the numerous box stores.

The major problem with the lack of beauty or mediocrity at best, in all our new construction is the effect it has on all of us and especially the younger members of our community. They will come to see mediocrity and lack of beauty as normal. To be raised without beauty outside of what nature offers is to risk dulling the creativity and imagination in young people; to risk negatively affecting the mental health of our youth.

Ergo, in list of suggestions to the new Council in October, I would urge that pressure be put on the Building Code Commission in this province, to insist on improved building standards. These must apply with reference to the ecological aspects of new buildings, demanding geothermic heating, solar panels or other environmentally sustainable energy sources; building materials, specifically alternatives to concrete which alternative is, of a necessity, a developing product.

Also, that a renewed attention to the art of architecture be encouraged, to give homeowners pride of ownership, rather than the cheap cookie-cutting that is the current trend.

It is well proven that human health is measurably kept well by the presence of trees. Let’s get them in those parking lots.

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