ECOSPECTIVE: Making an effort to preserve the ‘Forest’ city


Daniel O’Neail
The City of London is facing another challenge before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) Tuesday (Jan. 15) at City Hall. Our current tree coverage is well below the recommended Provincial levels, (shamefully the Forest City comes in after the steel town Hamilton for tree coverage,) so in an effort to bring London up to acceptable standards a new initiative was introduced and implemented into the city’s master plan.

A wooded area had to meet three criteria to be declared Significant Woodlands; it now only has to reach one high score to qualify. This has prompted a group of developers to appeal to the OMB, hoping they will declare London’s attempt to meet Ontario Provincial guidelines unfair.

Into this fray steps former city councilor Sandy Levin, who spoke to a large gathering of concerned citizens on last week. He announced his intention to take the concerns of the newly formed London Woodland Coalition to the OMB in partnership with the city in their defense of this policy and was asking for donations to help pay legal fees. By the end of the meeting over $7000 was collected but more is needed.

I had a chance to sit down with Levin after the meeting and discuss his motivations.

He has been a schoolteacher, a member of London City Council, consultant for the Urban League, as well as being involved in a number of city and local environmental initiatives. It is no surprise that he would be leading the fight to maintain the new official plan, as he was the city councilor who spearheaded the Woodland acquisition fund, that allows the city to buy and protect woodlands throughout London, preserving them for future generations.

Levin has been aware of environmental issues since his youth, attending a school in the late 60’s that had a recycling program even then. Concern for the environment was part of the curriculum in the Niles West School in Illinois.

After moving to London he was asked to attend a planning committee meeting at City Hall in 1991, over a proposed land swap in the north east.

Levin was appalled to see the concerns of the citizens and the environment shrugged aside, as in one sweeping gesture a wooded area along the Thames River flood plain was handed to a developer in trade for a farm field – because they couldn’t develop the farm field.

Environmental concerns were a distant fourth when it came to building up the City of London, falling right behind the voice of the community in lacking importance.

This outrage prompted him to get involved, and he was there when the neighbourhood appealed to the OMB, but lost to uncontrolled development.

Levin was invited to work with several other groups, the ratepayers, the Urban League, several neighbourhood groups, including one opposing the construction of high-rises next to the Sifton Bog.

He ran for Council in 1994 and lost by less then 100 votes on a platform of land stewardship.

His further work in the community gave him a landslide, election victory four years later in the 1997.

He was presented with a rude awakening. The council at that time was into doing things big – real big – if it wasn’t a BIG idea it was not to get in the way, community interaction was at an all time low, and the city had little interest in the concerns of it’s citizens, and voters.

While he managed to get the Woodland acquisition fund started, there were far to few initiatives being looked at. But the groundwork was set for future councils to make a difference if they make an effort.

Levin would like to see the city continue in it’s attempts to save as many woodlands as possible, “a good start”, but what he would really like is for the developers see the light.

By leaving the woodlands undisturbed and building around them they will realize better profits in the homes they build.

How many people would rather see woods out the window instead of the neighbour’s 8ft privacy fence?

Levin would like us all to make an effort to preserve our woodlands. “Instead of carving your initials into a tree and coming back years later to see it, why not leave the whole forest for you to come back to?” he asks. I asked Sandy if he would ever again run for city council, and was suprised to see him smile and say, “Never say never.”

For those interested in viewing the OMB meetings, they are being held at City Hall beginning Tuesday (Jan. 15).

Those interested in helping to fund the London Woodland Coalition should contact Sandy Levin (see link).

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Daniel O’Neail is a London political figure, environmentalist, and public speaker. Opinions are those of the author. Contact Daniel by e-mail (see link).


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