Photo: A new kind of NIMBY: Nature in My Backyard

Perhaps the most exciting Nature in My Backyard campaign is an effort to establish Canada's first urban National Park in the Rouge Valley, at the east end of Toronto (Credit: HerryLawford via Flickr).

By David Suzuki with contributions from Jode Roberts

On reading about the growing resistance to a mega-quarry being proposed for southern Ontario, I had an epiphany about the media's use of the term NIMBY, for "not in my backyard." It's normally used to describe grassroots efforts to block everything from landfills and windmills to big box stores and bike lanes. NIMBYism has taken on a negative association, often implying naive or parochial resistance to projects that challenge the status quo in a community.

But NIMBYism isn't always bad. Although it can arise out of fear of something new or different in a community, it can also be the result of genuine concern for the local environment. I'd like to propose a new kind of NIMBY, one that is positive and reflects a true sense of caring for our communities. Let's go green and say yes to Nature in My Backyard.

A good place to start recognizing this new NIMBYism would be literally in our backyards. That means encouraging more home veggie and herb gardens, more native plants that support birds, bees, and butterflies, and more backyard composters for fruit and veggie scraps and yard clippings.

Next, we can bring Nature in My Backyard-ism to the neighbourhood. Our municipal parks are undoubtedly important green spaces, but they are often seen as an afterthought, especially when overzealous municipal leaders want to cut spending. Let's rethink urban parks as places that provide more than just a space to play sports or sit on a bench.

Our local parks provide a variety of essential services that we take for granted. For instance, trees clean and cool our air, absorb pollutants, store and filter rainwater, reduce noise, add colour, absorb and store carbon, and are home to many species of insects, birds, and other critters. Add up the benefits that local parks provide. You might be surprised. The City of Philadelphia found that investment in its park system returned a net increase in economic wealth of more than $700 million each year.

At the regional level, the new NIMBYism could be directed toward wrapping "greenbelts" around our sprawling urban areas. Protecting the farms, fields, forests, and wetlands around our urban areas is an investment that will pay huge dividends. The internationally renowned 1.8-million-hectare Ontario Greenbelt is estimated to provide the Golden Horseshoe region with more than $2.6 billion in economic benefits each year, and it serves as a bright green example of how we can protect and restore nature in the backyards of an entire region.

But perhaps the most exciting Nature in My Backyard campaign is an effort to establish Canada's first urban National Park in the Rouge Valley, at the east end of Toronto. Parks Canada is celebrating the 100th year of our magnificent National Parks system. I can think of no better way to commemorate this milestone than to bring nature to urbanites in the Rouge. Imagine a National Park that is accessible by public transit for millions of city dwellers, including huge and diverse populations of new Canadians.

Despite being in the heart of one of the densest urban areas in North America, the Rouge Valley is a surprisingly intact chunk of forests, fields, and waterways that meanders from the Oak Ridges Moraine in Markham to the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Scarborough. After more than two decades of tireless advocacy and political horse-trading, the Rouge is now poised to become the first and largest urban National Park in North America — something the federal government made a commitment to pursue in this past week's throne speech.

Although significant work remains before the prime minister arrives for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, these are heady days for a green space that most Canadians, and Torontonians for that matter, have likely never heard of. Adding a National Park in the Rouge will permanently protect a vital green space and provide a much-needed opportunity for residents throughout the GTA to take pride and get outside.

I encourage citizens across the country to join me in celebrating the new NIMBY and saying yes to nature in our backyards, neighbourhoods, and communities. It will be an important reminder that nature isn't a destination; it is literally in our backyard.

June 8, 2011

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Dec 29, 2013
11:09 AM

I hope this” Nature In My BackYard” (NIMBY) catches on. Given the context of the Holocene Mass Extinction event, I don’t understand why this idea isn’t more mainstream and restricted to the backyard.

Native plant gardens are beneficial to the local ecology and require less energy, water, time and money than many “accepted” landscaping practices.

Introduced non-native species have escaped cultivation and destroyed entire ecosystems. Purple Loosestrife, Garlic Mustard and Goutweed are just three examples of introduced alien invaders which are currently decimating our natural areas. Native plants are often vulnerable to destructive pathogens which can accompany imported non-native plants. Elm, Chestnut and Butternut are just three examples of native species which are suffering as a result of introduced pathogens. Yet anyone can still import plants from anywhere, put them in their gardens, roll the dice and potentially unleash yet another wave of destruction.

Lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other powered landscaping tools consume energy and create pollution and greenhouse gases. Native plant gardens are typically weeded by hand. Eventually a well planned native garden will mostly take care of itself. Who tends the interior of Banff or Algonquin Park?

Most ornamental plants produce no nectar or pollen are really just cruel jokes we play on pollinators.

I still don’t understand North America’s biggest agricultural crop….”The Lawn”. Sure I get athletic fields and recreation areas. But few people use their yards that way. Our most common landscaping choice is really a just monoculture of non-native grass. The lawn consumes more energy, water, fertilizer and pesticides per hectare than anything else we grow while producing little of value. Our lawns do not feed, clothe or shelter us. From an environmental viewpoint, lawns are ecological wastelands mostly devoid of life. Those few species that do thrive on lawns are often considered nuisances or pests.

Its time society began considering the environmental and ecological impact of our landscaping choices, rather than focusing exclusively on the human centric visual aesthetic driven by the lawn and garden industry. Given the context of the Holocene Mass Extinction event, most commonly accepted landscaping practices are irresponsible and destructive.

Jun 14, 2011
8:12 AM

Urban national parks make sense. Yes, parks are supposed to conserve ecologically sensitive and/or special/unique areas, but they are also supposed to be recreational areas. Sadly, Canada’s parks are not easily accessible — a car is needed.

Bukhansan National Park, in South Korea, is accessible at several different subway stops along Seoul’s sprawling metro system. It is the country’s most-visited park, and for good reason.

As an avid hiker who usually retreats as far into the boonies as possible, Bukhansan was nonetheless one of my favourite parks to hike in all of Korea (and I hiked all but two of Korea’s national parks, and several provincial/county/city parks as well). There were hikes for all skill levels, breathtaking views of both mountainous forests and towering skyscrapers, and a stillness and quiet in the air unfathomable so close to the buzzing city. After my hike, I got on the subway and went downtown to freshen up at the public bath house and rest my bones over a steaming mug in a quaint tearoom. These types of excursions are only possible with urban parks.

Moreoever, all of South Korea’s parks are accessible by bus. Canada should ensure that its parks can be accessed by everyone equally. This would aid in tourism (Canadians travelling within Canada and tourists to Canada). How many city-dwellers don’t have cars because the bus is so convenient? How many lower-income families would love a simple camping vacation but can’t afford the cost of gas? How many backpackers can’t see the “real” Canada because they’re stuck in urban centres, where the buses are?

I frequently visit Toronto from Northeastern Ontario and usually make time to walk in either High Park or the Don Valley, and now I look forward to exploring the Rouge Valley National Park!

Jun 12, 2011
2:28 PM

I guess I already suffer (not really) that type of NIMBYism. We get every wild animal you can imagine coming into our neighbourhood. Rabbits, porcupines, coyotes, deer, and this past winter we had a pheasant make himself at home. I don’t mind this at all, as long as they leave my garden alone.

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