Now Newspaper

The picture above and the following article appeared in the June 25 edition of the Now Newspaper. Picture and article are by reporter Amy Reid. The original article can be viewed here.

Surrey residents kick off public art project to ‘grieve’ tree loss

‘I Grieve’ is designed to mourn loss of green space, not point fingers or blame.

NEWTON — As excavators dig in the background, two North Surrey residents gaze upon the stark contrast of clear-cut versus forest.

Thick trunks of tall timbers and healthy undergrowth occupy one side of the land, construction and emptiness the other. An orange net divides the two, serving as a symbolic barrier between the two competing desires.

It’s a scene that’s become a norm across the vast city. They tell me they feel grief.

“This, for me, was a turning point,” David Dalley said of the construction going on across from the Newton library, where storm retention ponds are going in.

“I live in this area. When I saw what had been done to this green space it broke my heart.”

Dalley and Linda Prai are two of the people behind the “I Grieve” art project. The idea is simple. It’s not about protesting or pointing blame, but rather exploring personal and collective grief about climate change and the destruction of local ecosystems.

Anyone can participate by leaving the words “I Grieve” somewhere on or near a local ecosystem that has been lost. They are then invited to submit two pictures online: one of the site and one of the “I Grieve” marker that’s been left behind.

The group is even mapping the submissions online.

“It’s about capturing that emotional impact,” explained Dalley. “It’s more like a funeral, a way of honouring our pain for the world and showing that we care.

“Let’s stop and hear the sounds of the earth crying, because it is from what we’re doing to it,” he said, quoting spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh.

Dalley noted we’re up against a serious issue with climate change and while the two most common responses are apathy and anger, neither is very productive.

“What art can do is open us up to other, more nuanced responses to big issues,” he said. “This can allow us to act in healthier, more productive and collaborative ways.”

A report released by the city last year showed a five per cent drop in Surrey’s tree canopy over the last 12 years, nearly half of which came from South Surrey. It dropped from 33 per cent in 2001 to 30 in 2009 and by 2013 had dropped to 27.7 per cent.

Without changes in Surrey’s practices, the report predicts the city’s tree canopy would fall to somewhere between 21 to 27 per cent in 50 years.

The city has a pretty ambitious goal of reaching a 40 per cent tree canopy by 2058, but is optimistic it can be achieved by preserving 10,000 acres in perpetuity in its natural state, replacing trees that fall to the chainsaw with “stick trees” that will be mature in a few decades, and focusing on infill development as well as steering dense projects to town centres.

Bob Campbell, vice-chair of the city’s environmental advisory committee called the results “disturbing,” adding he thinks the city’s target of 2058 is too far off.

“I’m going to be dead by then,” he told the Now.

Prai has lived in Surrey for 30 years. She remembers when Surrey had a modest 80,000 residents – and a lot more trees.

“The city has huge powers to do good and choose how they do zoning,” said Prai. “What’s our agenda in Surrey? The future lives here, we’re expanding like crazy, and that’s great, but what about our legacy?”