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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.

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

 

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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.

 

How much Grandview water goes into Rivers?

By Alisa Ramakrishnan, GHSA member

Before gabbing about how I did this and why, I’ll put the answer first (this is for a development area about 500m long and 500m wide):

liters of rain on a rainy day
2005 is pre-development, 2014 is after building five townhouse complexes (over 400 units) and over 150 single family homes. Over 1 million liters of rain falls on the roads on a really rainy day.

 

I’ve been watching the rain collect on my narrow streets and run down the drain into fish habitat.

SONY DSC

Every time it rains, I wonder how development has affected the amount of road runoff that ends up in rivers and streams.

 

I did some basic analyses to get a general idea. I chose a recently-developed area, about 256,000 square meters (thanks COSMOS mapping program!), and highlighted the roads (not rooftops or driveways…let’s say that developers have used sub-soil gravel diversions and other techniques to divert that runoff into soil).

glenmore et al road runoff
2005 and 2014, developments east of Grandview Corners (24th Ave & 160th St); roads are colored blue.

I looked at climate data from Environment Canada from a weather station in White Rock, and saw that on rainy days in winter, 10mm was pretty normal, while 30mm was a higher rainfall day. I used Photoshop to calculate square meters of roads, then estimated liters of runoff water. There are no swales here, so road runoff goes right into fish habitat.

About 8 times more road runoff is running into fish habitat after development compared to before. By the way, the detention ponds you see in the picture might hold about 1 million liters each, from my estimates (if they average about 1.2m deep). They’re basically to catch overflow from the drainage pipes, when more water falls than can fit in the pipes. I don’t know what the capacities of the drainage pipes are…but Surrey’s website says it all goes into the rivers without being treated.

I think it’s a bit optimistic to think that 1,000,000L/day won’t have a significant impact on river water quality.

You long-term residents will think I’m astonishingly ignorant, but I’ll plunge on anyway. After visiting a nearby hatchery, I learned that the rivers around here are used by salmon! Maybe the runoff from this development goes to a different area somehow, but the signs on every drainage grate, and the City of Surrey’s own information, says otherwise. “It is important to know that any road run-off flows directly into local creeks and watercourses.”

This Canada government website highlights the dangers of development such as we see here.

There are alternatives – ways to mitigate road runoff. Portland’s Green Streets initiative comes to mind. They use curbside swales, pervious pavement, rain gardens, gutter cut-outs, things like that, to divert water from rivers and streams. Another Oregon website has excellent pictures that show how to do it. And here’s another document, from  California, with marvelous pictures and information.

I’ve seen lots of roadside plantings and curb extensions here that could very easily be modified to soak up some of the road runoff. Maybe that sort of thing doesn’t work here; I admit I didn’t grow up here, and there’s a lot I don’t understand. But I think we should consider doing something to reduce road runoff. It’s worth a shot.

Dr Ramakrishnan’s article is re-blogged from Save Sunnyside Trees

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.

GHSA Mayoral “Virtual” Forum

GHSA “Virtual” Mayoral Candidate Forum

The Grandview Heights Stewardship Association recently invited non-incumbent Council Candidates to participate in a “virtual” forum to address land use issues. We have been posting responses on our website and tweeting them as well to broaden voter awareness of one of the less-topical areas that, as you know only too well, Councillors have to deal with on a routine basis.  The questions, method of delivery, and posting have been executed with all neutrality to enable readers to form their own opinion of who will be good stewards in land use issues.

It has been suggested that we also pose a similar question to the leading contenders for Mayor of Surrey as identified by the CBC in their recent hosted debate.

On Friday, Nov 7th, we emailed the following questions to Linda Hepner, Doug McCallum (via Al Payne as the SafeSurrey Coalition server was bouncing back emails) and Barinder Rasode. To date, we have received one reply, from Barinder Rasode but will post others if received before Nov 15th. To read Councillor Rasode’s reply, click the link below the question which is reproduced as sent.

THE FORUM QUESTIONS

Dear XXX,

The Grandview Heights Stewardship Association recently invited non-incumbent Council Candidates to participate in a “virtual” forum to address land use issues. We have been posting responses on our website and tweeting them as well to broaden voter awareness of one of the less-topical areas that, as you know only too well, Councillors have to deal with on a routine basis.

It has been suggested that we also pose a similar question to the leading contenders for Mayor of Surrey as identified by the CBC in their recent hosted debate

Because we appreciate that your time is at a premium, if interested please email your thoughts and ideas regarding land use planning and development and the goal of environmental sustainability as it applies to Grandview Heights in Surrey.

Please reply within 750 words to the following questions ( below)

Your submission will be posted on our website in a section similar to our Non- incumbent Council Candidate’s submissions ( click here to see them.)

Please email your answer to info@grandviewstewardship.org no later than Nov 10, 2014 so we can post and circulate for your prospective voters.

These are the questions:

-Is the current Grandview Heights Land Use Plan (GLUP) meeting the objectives of the City of Surrey and residents who reside in Grandview Heights?

-Is the Neighborhood Concept Plan (NCP) an effective process to establish and guide new development, re-development in Grandview Heights?

-Is the citizen advisory committee (CAC) meeting its objective to provide local input for land use planning initiatives?    

-What does ‘environmental and social stewardship’ mean to you as it relates to city land use planning?

 

Thank you in advance for participating in this dialogue,

Sincerely

The Grandview Heights Stewardship Association

 

THE FORUM ANSWERS

Barinder Rasode, One Surrey

Guest Blog by Bob Ransford: “Multi-generational Community Planning”

I’ve been attending public meetings about community planning and development for more than 35 years. I’ve sat through more than 300 public hearings about rezonings, community plans and development projects in municipalities throughout the Lower Mainland.

I have attended probably double that number of open houses, planning committee meetings, design panels, neighbourhood planning workshops and charettes.

No, I’m not looking for expressions of sympathy. I’ve been there willingly. Often, I’ve participated as a concerned citizen and almost as often, I’ve been there because it’s part of what I’ve been making my living at for the past 25 years.

I’ve learned a lot observing or participating in the process that shapes our neighbourhoods, towns and cities. I’ve witnessed what works and what doesn’t work in planning and designing the housing that we live in. I’ve learned that planning and building a town or city is not easy. It’s all about balancing a wide range of interests and making a series of trade-offs. I’ve learned that most people don’t initially engage in the tough issues about community building to seek compromise. Compromise comes after a lot of discussion.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t assume that everyone comes into the room with the same level of understanding and knowledge. I’ve learned that it takes a long time to move people from focusing on their self interests to focusing on the community’s interest. I’ve also learned that when you spend the time trying to do this and you are successful, often people will realize that their own interests can best be accommodated on that common ground that they’ve discovered.

But the most profound thing I’ve learned is that too often, the wrong people are in the room. That has led to long and non-productive processes. It’s led to unreasonable expectations and plans that fall far short of what’s really possible.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve scanned a room full of people who are voicing their concerns about a long-term community plan and have seen nothing but people like me — those of us with a lot of grey hair.

I’ve sat through too many public hearings on new housing developments where speaker after speaker objecting to a developer’s plan were people much older than the demographic cohort that the project was designed to accommodate. Far too often, those participating in planning and influencing the important decisions are not the people who will be most impacted by those decisions over the long term.

There are 2.3 million people living in Metro Vancouver today. By 2041, less than 30 years from now, there will be another million people living in the region. Most of the housing we are building today will be no more than halfway through its lifespan 30 years from now. A lot of that housing will be occupied then by people who are less than 30 years old today.

That demographic cohort — young people 10 to 29 years of age — represents about 26 per cent of our current regional population. You don’t see many of them at public hearings and planning workshops. They aren’t tweeting about housing developments and most of them aren’t reading community newspapers every week to find out what’s happening in their backyard. Most simply aren’t engaged in civic issues.

Another demographic cohort that isn’t deeply engaged today are the people who will be occupying the homes we are building today as retirees and in the golden years of their lives. Those who are 30 to 54 years of age today — representing 38 per cent of today’s population — are simply too busy to be involved in civic issues today.

They are raising families and working hard, trying to earn a living. In our connected and fast-paced modern world, their lives are busier than they ever expected when they were young. They can’t find the time and energy to attend public meetings.

So who is in the room? Who is packing the public hearings and lining up at the speaker’s podium to try to convince municipal councils to slow the pace of change? The majority are usually people 55 years of age or older. Today, this group represents just over a quarter of the current population. In 27 years, when the housing we are approving today is just short of halfway through its life span, the youngest of this demographic cohort will be 82 years old.

I am not saying the voices of these people shouldn’t be heard. But their voices need to be among a whole chorus of collaboration that includes the people whom the change we are planning today is meant to accommodate.

We need to find new ways of reaching out to the people who are going to be living 25 and 30 years from now in the housing, neighbourhoods and towns we are planning and building today.

We need to engage them in the discussion, trade-offs and decisions that are the key ingredients of good long-term plans. They are the ones who are going to live with what we plan today.

 

Bob Ransford is a public affairs consultant with Counterpoint Communications Inc. He is a former real estate developer who specializes in urban land-use issues. Email: ransford@counterpoint.ca or Twitter:@BobRansfordThis opinion piece was originally published in the Vancouver Sun, March 21, 2014

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.

 

The Gift of Trees

From the beginning of life on our planet, animals, including the human, has sought a place in the shade in the heat of day. Look at the cows clustered together under the trees. Watch your dog in the summer out on the deck. He will have a sunbath, then move to a shady spot under your umbrella table, which you are sitting at yourself for protection from the heat.

We have all heard of their ecological importance, and take it very much for granted. But do we know that trees are as important to human beings as food and water? To keep city air cool and clean, trees should cover at least 40% of city land. This is the canopy we hear about now and then, and pay so little attention to. One tree can clean the toxic emissions from the dirty air exhausted from an average car driven 4,000 miles.

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