Re-creating Richmond’s mixed urban forest

Garden City Lands legacy landscape

Have a look at the photo, taken from Richmond’s City Centre. It’s one-fifth of a panoramic scene. The rest of the panorama includes the Lions to the west (left) and Mount Baker to the southeast. It’s a viewscape—all one can see from near to far, from wetland to mountains and sky.

In between, you see part of Richmond’s last mixed urban forest, also known as the Alderbridge wildlife corridor. It’s on the north edge of noisy Alderbridge Way, but you could crouch there on a sunny day and feel bathed in the sounds of nature.

It’s special to sense nature’s life as you soak in natural viewscapes from the middle of a city. What unique good fortune! No wonder the City of Richmond put this legacy viewscape on the covers of its 2014 Legacy Landscape booklet.

The bad news: We’ve lost that legacy viewscape. Although the forest had layers of protection, the city brushed them aside, ignoring informed citizens. That doomed the mixed urban forest.

A band of developments has taken its place. As a legacy step, it’s like sticking duct tape on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa at eye level.

The good news: We can unlose what’s lost. In effect, we can shift the mixed urban forest south across Alderbridge. We can regenerate it on the Garden City Lands between the Alderbridge sidewalk and the dike-road trail. If the city acts on this, it will enrich a Legacy Landscape idea—perimeter woods.

Before the doomed forest was moonscaped, people looked north at it and wondered which side of Alderbridge it was on. From the photo, you may wonder too. In that aspect, the old and new forest will eventually look the same.

Efficient technology and potential funding exist to transplant mid-size trees from demolition sites for this purpose. Crucially, there’s a manager on staff who could lead it well.

Lately, in a Bridge Street development area with over 250 trees, only nine were kept. Although we want to retain more trees where they are, let’s re-home trees as need be. In that way (among others), the lost legacy of mixed urban forest can take shape again as an engaging ALR feature of our ALR central park.

As I see it, there will be most kinds of Richmond trees there, especially evergreens that grow to a happy-medium height, screening the developments but not the mountains.

Along Alderbridge in the northwest corner of the park, half the 50,000 cubic metres of clay in “the mound” could be moved to make way for forest soil and trees. (That clay would then be mixed with organic soil for agriculture.)

As before, the Alderbridge mixed urban forest would stretch from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road, but the ends of the strip would ideally curve south. From most angles, that would screen the intersections, making for greener viewscapes.

All going well, the ecosystem of the lost legacy will thrive again, with values for wellness, wildlife and more.

Let’s get this right.

________

Update, April 25, 2016: Lots of people have asked what’s going on with the City of Richmond cutting down trees on the Alderbridge Way median between the last vestiges of the former mixed urban forest and the Garden City Lands (and also on Garden City Road). The removal enables the median to be cut back, for new intersections and turn lanes. On the reduced median, the removed trees are supposed to be replaced by several kinds of new coniferous evergreens. The plan is described in this staff memo.

The Alderbridge median trees that will supposedly be added seem fine except that some will grow taller than ideal from a viewscape standpoint. However, from the standpoints of mixed urban forest, wildlife corridor and natural screen (for City Centre northward viewscapes), that step is no replacement for the kind of mixed urban forest I have proposed as the optimal form of what the GCL park enhancement team has proposed for the north edge of the GCL.

A safety aspect too: Of those that would be too tall, what stands out (accidental play on words) is grand fir, which can grow to over 250 feet. The inclusion of grand fir also leads me, as a former member of “joint occupational health and safety committees” on postsecondary campuses, to be instinctively concerned. One kind of factor we were routinely conscious of (in scheduled inspections and in an ongoing way) was anything that might fall on people, especially in situations when it would complicate emergencies, which would include wind/rain storms and earthquakes.

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