“The mosaic of little places”: what do neighbourhoods and residents add up to?

By GHSA Board Member Alisa Wilson


‘You would need a very big map of the world in order to make Port William visible upon it. In the actual scale of a state highway map, Port William would be smaller than the dot that locates it. In the eyes of the powers that be, we Port Williamites live and move and have our being within a black period about the size of the one that ends a sentence. It would be a considerable overstatement to say that before making their decisions the leaders of the world do not consult the citizens of Port William. Thousands of leaders of our state and nation, entire administrations, corporate board meetings, university sessions, synods and councils of the church have come and gone without hearing or pronouncing the name of Port William. And how many such invisible, nameless, powerless little places are there in the world? All the world, as a matter of fact, is a mosaic of little places invisible to the powers that be. And in the eyes of the powers that be all these invisible places do not add up to a visible place. They add up to words and numbers.”
Wendell Berry,  from his novel, Jayber Crow

Congratulations to Surrey’s new Mayor, Linda Hepner, and new and returning Council members.
Development applications stalled for a bit in the fall, leading up to the election, reportedly now are on a faster track than ever. Existing City-approved Land Use Plans do not provide much visible guidance to further densification applications and lack resident support.
Does Surrey Council feel that Grandview Heights residents deserve no more than 3 weeks notice prior to the City giving first and second reading to controversial development proposal 14-0225? Why is this happening just 10 days before the Christmas holiday?

Development application numbers and even addresses mean little when you glance over them in the media. I’ll try to bring this one to life, if I can.

Development proposal #14-0225 is located at the corner of 28th Ave. and 164th St. in the RA-1acre zoned area east of 164th St in Grandview Heights. RA  means Residential-Agricultural, and this much-loved and very beautiful area still has the grassy fields and tall fir, cedar, birch, maple and other trees that make it a paradise for raising kids, and a refuge for every kind of living thing that we love to see around us when we walk through our neighbourhood. The trees filter pollutants from the air, and the grass and soil hold the rain, reducing flooding and storing fresh water. The tall mature evergreens air condition the area from summer heat, and insulate homes from icy winter winds blasting across the flats.

These remaining semi-rural areas are a precious natural reserve for nearby townhouse or apartment residents whose yards aren’t big enough to sustain robins, owls or deer or a tree of any size. These larger properties allow all nearby families a share in the daily experience of nature that all kids deserve, and give everyone lovely, shady, low traffic routes to walk the dog or the baby.

The Mayor and Council have yet to show how much value they attach to these things, and to their resident citizens – that they mean more than just cash in the bag. Agreed, it’s a hard job to properly monitor the way our city develops.

Why should anyone living elsewhere in Surrey worry about this one little area, if they haven’t got a development on the doorstep? Because you may be next… and will be too, before long. Whether you like rural or urban living, you’d probably like to see a few big trees near enough to walk under, and a bit of nature to enjoy in the spring, without needing a car to do so.

If you too wish to see more sensitive development practices in your Surrey neighbourhood, it might be worthwhile to join together with the many Surrey residents who would like to have their choice of neighbourhood and lifestyle respected and valued. Why should we have to keep moving on? – it’s our neighbourhood!

It’s clear we need to support each other, neighbourhood supporting neighbourhood, or residents get ignored. We can help each other out by letting Council know that we care about development applications in and around our own town centre, from the core to the rural surrounds that all contribute to a wonderful, joyous place to live, or give us a concrete jungle.

The holiday season is a terrible time to worry about this, but it only takes 5 minutes to send the Mayor and Council a note.  On January 12th, this application will go to Public Hearing and then, once more, residents will see urbanization creep into an area that does not have an NCP, does not want urban development, and that has been ignored.

Tell them ‘NO’ to development application #14-0225. See details at:


‘…for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things….
…if we can’t live together, we can’t live at all. Did you ever think about that?’

Quotes are from the book Jayber Crow by the Guggenheim Fellowship winner Wendell Berry


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and are presented here by the GHSA to encourage healthy debate. The GHSA Blog exists as a resource to enable members concerned with the environmental and community stewardship of Grandview Heights to voice perspectives. When directors of the Association contribute to the blog, they do so as private citizens, not as officers representing the Association. The GHSA reserves the right to edit, condense or reject any contribution.





Guest post by Barbara Yaffe: “Arboristic suicide”

A wholesale “arboristic homicide” was committed recently in Dunbar, revealing woeful deficiencies in Vancouver’s tree-protection policies.The photos tell the story: If it were a Hollywood production, it would be called Nightmare on West 38th Ave.

“Arboristic homicide” is a term used earlier this year by landscape architect Judith Blake Reeve, to describe the chopping of trees that property owners have planted but subsequently deem too inconvenient.

I cannot think of a better term for what happened on West 38th in the final days of November.



It clearly illustrates an ongoing problem in the city, with a tree canopy sparser than that of Toronto — which boasts 26.6 per cent coverage.

Vancouver’s tree canopy provides 18 per cent coverage, down from 22.5 per cent in 1995.

To read more of this article, which has been reprinted with the permission of both the author and the Vancouver Sun, please click here


Invasive Species and Humans: Lessons from nature about building Communities

By Alisa P. Ramakrishnan, PhD

Diversity, communication, and power! My research on invasive plants makes me think that we could learn a thing or two from weeds about building communities and solving problems. Great weeds often come from lots of different places (diversity), then they hybridize with each other (communication), and then they take over (power). We can use those principles to strengthen our own communities. Let me go over a few things about invasive plants to show you what I mean.

Invasive species come to a new place, and then suddenly they take over. Blackberry has done a good job here in BC – you see it everywhere, especially if you’re trying to traipse through overgrown woods. Kentucky bluegrass is another invasive species. You plant your lawn in one spot and it creeps away from you, sneaking into your rose beds and bulbs. It’s everywhere in our nearby pocket forest, beating down the seedlings of native plants that have to struggle through its thick turf to grow.

1 invasive ivy and suchlike

Invasive plants can have difficulty establishing in a new area – they might not have the resources they need, and they often confront new challenges. Most plants introduced to a new area do not survive. The only way to keep those populations alive is to keep adding more and more plants, trying to keep them from dying out.

But every once in awhile (about 10% of the time), something happens. A plant species that has never been in a new area suddenly takes off running and in a few years it seems you can’t get away from it. Scotch broom on the Island, for example. Those yellow flowers are everywhere! What gives?

The grass that I studied (Brachypodium sylvaticum, or false brome) is invasive in Oregon, Washington and California. But not always. New populations often struggle to survive, and plants there grow slowly. Plants in the main source region, though, grow fast and furious, and make so many seeds that it’s easy for them to stick in people’s socks and take the fast road to new horizons and new possibilities. They have the chance to start their own little invasion.

2 false brome

Why do some areas of false brome struggle while others pump out seeds like mad? The answer is integration (“admixture,” in population genetics talk). The areas that drive the whole range expansion are those that have a lot of different plants with different ways of life, all living together, talking, playing, having fun, making babies…oh, sorry, I forgot which species I was discussing. But yes, when genetically different plants get together and make seeds, the grandbaby plants have an astonishing array of traits. Tall, short, big leaves, small leaves, flower early, flower late, germinate immediately, wait to germinate – anyway, you get the idea. (We’re still working out the details on this for false brome but the overall concept is solid.)

Here’s a possible example – when a problem comes along, like a late freeze that kills lots of young seedlings, there are late-germinators waiting in the soil to pop up anyway, and we humans never notice that there was a major challenge in that patch of false brome this year. The areas of grass with lots of different kinds of plants have an easier time surviving and sending out seeds to new populations.

How does this relate to humans? It seems to me that diversity is a good thing. If I were going to use invasive species biology to run a human community, the first thing I’d want is diversity. Diversity can make up for a severe lack of resources, because people from different areas will be able to combine their ideas (assuming they manage to work together) and come up with completely novel solutions to difficult problems.

3 world map

The second thing we’d need is a common language, or at least some really good translators. Everyone has to get the same information in a way they can understand it, and they need the opportunity to contribute their ideas to the community, and to discuss potential solutions together.

They’d also need the power to bring about the solutions they come up with. You can’t take a diverse community, get everyone talking, come up with solutions, and then shut them down. That seems to not be the point, right?

Let’s say a lot of people go to their local government and say, “We like green space, we like parks, we like huge old trees, eagles and animals, and we like to live here.” The government (hopefully representing the people) can guide the process, helping people talk to each other, come up with solutions, and make cities beautiful, or it can shut them down, catering to only a small group of people.

4 houses by south surrey athletic park copy

If the government manages to bring people together and help them communicate to come up with novel solutions, they can create a community where everyone has the resources they need – jobs, houses, green space to run around in, dog parks, natural areas with old trees for birdwatching and all sorts of little creatures and plants, stores in walking distance, everything! But it takes communication and a willingness on all sides to listen.


Let’s take a lesson from invasive plants – let’s talk together, work together, and make things beautiful for everyone.



The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and are presented here by the GHSA to encourage healthy debate. The GHSA Blog exists as a resource to enable members concerned with the environmental and community stewardship of Grandview Heights to voice perspectives. When directors of the Association contribute to the blog, they do so as private citizens, not as officers representing the Association. The GHSA reserves the right to edit, condense or reject any contribution.