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Vegetation in Victoria is equally accessible to most, study shows

Compared to cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Winnipeg, Victoria's plant life is much more evenly spread out across the city

By Jolene Rudisuela
September 18, 2022
Environment
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Vegetation in Victoria is equally accessible to most, study shows

Compared to cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Winnipeg, Victoria's plant life is much more evenly spread out across the city

Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Environment
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Vegetation in Victoria is equally accessible to most, study shows

Compared to cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Winnipeg, Victoria's plant life is much more evenly spread out across the city

By Jolene Rudisuela
September 18, 2022
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Vegetation in Victoria is equally accessible to most, study shows
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

No matter where you go in Victoria, you’re never far from greenery. According to a new UBC study, the city is particularly blessed with access to vegetation. 

The study found Victoria has a very equitable distribution of vegetation—that’s a more formal way of saying that the majority of people in Victoria live close to a good amount of plant life, no matter their income, education level, or ethnicity. 

Lead researcher and PhD candidate Jessica Quinton began her research wanting to know who benefits most from access to green space. Previous research has shown that plants improve mental well-being in a variety of ways—and trees also have a cooling effect on hot summer days—so Quinton wanted to look into what the access to vegetation is like for different people depending on where they live in cities across Canada.

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“I think the main thing that really jumped out to us was just how variable the results were,” Quinton told Capital Daily. “It was quite interesting that there is no sort of single overarching narrative that we could find about equity in Canadian cities.”

In about a third of the 31 cities studied, including Montreal, higher household income and higher education levels corresponded with increased levels of vegetation in those neighbourhoods. On the flipside, areas with a greater proportion of millennials had less access to vegetation in a third of the cities, including Calgary. 

In Victoria, it turns out that the access to greenery is fairly equitable, according to factors like median household income, education level, ethnicity, or age have little effect on the level of access to green space. Only population density was shown to have a significant impact. 

“In denser areas there tends to be less vegetation because there are more competing demands for space,” Quinton said. “So it’s hard sometimes to get vegetation into denser areas.”

The areas of the city with the highest tree cover have, in most cases, the highest property values. Data: City of Victoria

That potential for loss of greenery was among the concerns of those opposed to the recently debated Missing Middle Housing Initiative in Victoria, which is intended to densify parts of the city currently reserved for single-family homes.

“We all agree on certain things, and yet we think we’re not agreeing,” said one speaker at the public hearing for the initiative. “We all want families in our neighborhood with lots of greenery.” 

Victoria is comparable to Halifax, where, similarly, population density was the only significant factor associated with less access to vegetation. 

Quinton says she has seen cities try more creative ways for adding vegetation to already developed, high-density areas—including linear parks that wind around neighbourhoods, and “vertical greening,” which spreads vegetation along a vertical surface like a wall instead of the ground. 

“One thing we’re trying to promote is, retain the vegetation that does exist in these dense areas as much as possible,” she said, adding that one mature tree provides more benefits than several newly planted trees. “But in terms of integrating it, I think cities are going to have to get more creative.” 

Victoria’s urban forest

The City of Victoria’s urban forest continues to grow. Last year, the city released data that showed the city’s vegetation canopy increased by 45 hectares—the size of 60 soccer fields—between 2013 and 2019. As of 2019, the canopy of all trees in the region covered about 28% of the city’s total landmass. City-managed trees only make up a quarter of the total vegetation; the other three-quarters are on private and other public lands. 

The City of Victoria has multiple policies in place to ensure the protection of trees and the addition of more vegetation. The Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan guides the planning, management, and investment in the City of Victoria’s parks system. The tree protection bylaw, which came into effect on July 1, 2021, regulates the removal of bylaw-protected trees. 

A spokesperson for the city said in an email that the city also has grant programs to support residents with community gardens, while its land development process ensures that open spaces and natural elements are incorporated into new development projects on private land. 

Tree protection bylaw

Langford is now the only of the region’s 13 municipalities to not have a tree protection bylaw in place, and Coun. Lillian Szpak is concerned that the city is going backwards in terms of promoting an urban canopy. 

Langford was not part of the study, which only included Victoria on the Island.

Szpak put forward a motion In January to start research on implementing a tree protection bylaw, but it was defeated by Langford council. Mayor Stew Young said at the time that he didn’t want to create more “red tape and bureaucracy,” while Coun. Lanny Seaton didn’t like the idea of the city getting involved in what should be a homeowner’s decision. 

Later, in July, Szpak brought forward another motion to create an environmental protection committee, which would create a tree retention policy as a condition of rezoning and require a permit for the removal of mature trees during new developments. It was also defeated. 

Szpak told Capital Daily that the municipality has some measures in place to protect trees: the development permit process ensures that trees are protected near streams and rivers, and large developments require a certain amount of green space, for example. 

“Those are good things that we did in the early days at the municipality. And now the municipality is changing,” she said. “We are now experiencing very rapid development, and we are cutting down a lot of trees… Our community is very upset about it.”

She says Langford has done a good job on its parks, but access to green space and vegetation should extend beyond just parks. Besides the health and well-being benefits of vegetation, it is essential for combating the climate crisis, she said. Szpak added that, outside of sensitive ecosystems, the city does not have any measures protecting trees from being cut down. 

Recently, a resolution came before council for developers to have the option to provide a landscape architect to look at the vegetation on the property before it is cleared in order to retain some of the trees. “But it’s optional,” she said. 

“That’s not good enough anymore.”

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Vegetation in Victoria is equally accessible to most, study shows
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