Friday, April 07, 2006

Urban Havens


After reading a fascinating article in Canadian Geographic (May/June 2005), I was inspired to write about my own interest in urban natural spaces. I've included a link to the Credit Valley Conservation area for anyone back home who was interested in what they are doing.

Jennifer Wells article "Secret Hollows" tells the story of a photographer-conservationist who has made a project of recording the Toronto's tiny nooks and crannies of urban wilderness and their interaction with the concrete and asphalt city infrastructure. Philip Jessup's (here are some of the pictures) amazement with the dogged survival of green spaces in spite of human citification has resulted in a series of photos intended to capture the "pentimento" or "trace of one painting faintly visible beneath another"(Wells, 2005) of the landscape. The story also briefly touches on some historic aspects of both the urbanization of Toronto's watersheds and the conservation movements that have moved towards protecting them. A related link on the Canadian Geographic site features "Lost River Walks" in Toronto.

My interest in the story is both personal and academic. In two of my courses, I have been working on problems related to mitigating the impacts of development. - How do you expand without obliterating the area's natural beauty? Or sometimes, simply how to expand without making a mess out of your watersheds? - I found myself often drawing on the example of my own neighbourhood for solutions, finding myself increasingly impressed with their success in creating a fantastic place to grow up.

My own connections to these "secret hollows" date back to childhood. When I turned 8, I earned the privledge of going for bike rides on the nearby trail system with my friend Simone. Where were we drawn to? Not the fancy parks for us, but the patch of woods on the far side of Derry Road (over the DeeHacheBee or Down Hill Bridge). Here, woodland flowers still manage to bloom in May and June and trees offer shade and that peacefulness that only forested places can possess. (Trees innately possessing a certain dignity of age and permanency) Certainly, Lake Aquitaine was one of my favourite places to visit (Lake Aquitane being a large stormwater/flood management facility disguised as small lake).

As I got older and we moved a few km away, Edenwood and Lake Wabakyne became new haunts. The trilliums of Edenwood (not to mention Trout lilies) continue to draw me to this ever more over-used patch of trees. I was lucky. I lived in a place safe enough for children to explore the world beyond their backyard and endowed with the paths and trails to get there. I had supposed that this was the rule not the exception for subdivisions, but I was wrong. I'm glad someone took the time to design a community to live in, rather than pack as many houses as they could onto what was once fertile farmland. I have not only enjoyed living there, but have benefited from their example.



(The picture was taken at the UNB Woodlot in Fredericton) Posted by Picasa


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