The Urban Planning Paradox

Without planning, there is chaos.
landingGoose and Gull Chaos

Oh, wait, maybe it’s with planning that there’s chaos.

P1170113Okanagan Paradise

A park bench, a valley view, and the grassland hill behind. 

Might it be that that only looks like paradise because we are trained (domesticated) to see it that way? Look again.

rec2Everything Has a Purpose …

… and all purposes can co-exist. Well, as long as one ignores the fact that the land was stolen back in 1895 and has been in land claim ever since.

Well, let’s look more closely, eh. A garbage can beside a park bench so you have to smell fermented dog feces while cars whizz by at your back, while you’re looking over productive grassland fields irrigated with sewage outflow, which are grazed by cattle, full of unexploded military ordinance (in places), used as a gravel and soil dumping ground (in places) and leased out to a forestry nursery? Maybe it’s better not to know, eh.


Close Your Eye, Buddha Boy

That’s the stuff.

Sure, there appears to be total chaos up on the hillside, but maybe it’s not, eh. Maybe it’s a message, written crystal clear, like this:


Gull Cleaning Up the Lake

Go, Gull, Go!

So, yeah, maybe that there garbage can is a message, and an indication of the attitude of [someone in authority] to “the people”, that might go something like this:


Sensible, that’s for sure. Mind you, just a tiny suggestion for improvement? Sure, why not, in the spirit of community solidarity. Might it not make it awfully hard to enjoy the recreational opportunity provided by governmental zoning here when that message is at your elbow and dominates the scene and really says:


It’s like, you know, not all that respectful, really. Maybe part of the problem is zoning and government budgeting. Maybe all that goes something like this:

1. A city truck can only deliver a pre-manufactured park bench where there is a road, so the bench must go at the roadside.

2. Same goes for a pre-manufactured concrete garbage can…

3. … and the garbage can only be collected, by truck, if it, also, is near the road, because there isn’t the budget to pay people to do this work independently of machinery.

Let’s admit it. Problems like that must bring grey hairs to city planners in a petroleum economy. Maybe all parts of the scene are dominated by messages in the same way? Like this?


Forestry Nursery, Irrigated by Reclaimed Sewage

The hand is pointing out various slumps in the land from excess water and retaining dikes that try to contain it from filling the ditch beside the path. Maybe the thinking that lead to this expensive governmental construction project went something like this:

1. The land is covered in grass (and grazed by the cattle of the cattlemen who ahem, inherited it, blush, from the Syilx, thus it is considered farmland.

2. In terms of zoning, that allows for agricultural use.

3. A tree nursery is agricultural use. It’s about growing trees, right?

4. Agriculture requires water. Plants like that.

5. Earth purifies water. Humans like that.

6. The application of water to an agricultural use, on agricultural land, built out of earth, purifies water.

7. So we can put our reclaimed sewage up there and use the Syilx grasslands to turn it into lake water that we can swim in.

8. Gravity helps.

9. This is a very good thing and an image of environmental stewardship.

I dunno. Take a closer look.

Forestry Nursery on Post-Glacial Lakebed

The trees in behind have largely grown in since Syilx burning was outlawed in 1920. The trees grown in the nursery are designed to renew forests like that (once they are logged), although this one, being in plain sight and all, is retained for its aesthetic properties.

Isn’t that beautiful? An ingrown forest of weeds in a grassland is zoned of aesthetic use, and it works. It makes tourists and residents happy, makes for lovely views, and sells real estate. Aw shucks, that would be enough to bring great joy, but there’s more: apparently, an appropriate agricultural use for a grassland habitat is to grow trees to represent in physical form  a racist, legal directive. These trees are, in other words, one of the reasons the indigenous people, and their forms of land use, were suppressed in British Columbia a century and a half ago. And, you know, that would be enough to turn the world into an artwork, but there’s something even more beautiful and up-to-date about it: all this is considered environmental stewardship and social support for the people, on the principle that caring for people follows the creation of “jobs”. You’d think it might be the creation of food, security and shelter, but no, that would be wrong thinking. If you find yourself thinking like that, it might be that your domestication (indoctrination) was faulty and you need some political re-training.

Note: In the upper grasslands of BC, there are between 100% and 1000% more trees than there were in 1920.

Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not, but one thing is for sure: it’s a regulatory, zoning decision that just so happens to have the result that it removes opportunity for the Syilx (or anyone else) to live from any part of the land that has not been first converted into an industrial process, or, may I add, a zoned or regulatory one. Here’s a closer look at a regulatory decision:


This is the Kind of Post-Glacial Lakebed We’re Talking About

It started on the bottom of water, and it just loves to flow with water again, whenever you give it a chance.

If you find yourself thinking that maybe, oh maybe, when zoning is coupled with “fiscal restraint” within an industrialized culture that spends most of its human work hours to maintain the ability of linear, petroleum-dependent machinery to do work that might have been done by humans, weird things happen on this kind of a hill, you know your indoctrination (education) is wobbling again. Fortunately, even the regulators, who have a firm grasp on reality, stumble into error when their expensively-capitalized machinery intersects with planning and management issues. If that makes you feel any better. It can look like this:



This public trail is built out of gravel, no doubt precisely in accordance with regulations, above a drainage pipe, designed to take waste water (i.e. too much reclaimed sewage) off of the clay of the grasslands and deliver it to the lake, but this is a hill, and when the rain and snow melt it does what lake bottom hills love to do: go back down to the lake bottom. Truth is, water moves down these hills from plant to plant to plant, never being allowed to move freely. Trouble is, cattle graze the plants that are good at this, and graze the flatland prairie ones seeded to replace them, until, well, it costs a lot to put things back together again.

Maybe this kind of error is more expensive than doing things right? Oh, that’s just seditious thinking, that is. It’s not ultimate costs that matter here, but costs within a particular budgetary cycle. Paying for a path ten times over, over ten years of erosion, beats paying for it once, at half the cost, because that kind of behaviour exceeds budget capacity for any one year, and you’d have to raise taxes, and who wants that, right? So, the work is kind of a dance between budgets and time. Here’s another example:


Forestry Green Houses

Because green houses raise plants, they can be zoned for agricultural land. That the land has to be dug up and filled with glacial outwash gravel (deposited in rivers, against walls of ice, as the glaciers were melting, while the silt settled to the lake bottom that forms the soil here) is irrelevant. Gravel is also soil, the thinking goes, and that’s agricultural, too.

It’s all logical and legal (although gravel is ground up river bars and soil is a microbial community, but let that be) and yet it leads to this:


The Washout Begins

The gravel doesn’t want this water either.

And why is so much water trying to get away from the greenhouse complex? Ah, look…


Forest Seedling Growing Area

Large trays of seedlings will soon be laid out on these supports. Then the spray irrigation will begin.

Take a look at the floor of that area: gravel. You can’t really grow anything on something like that, but because there are plants present, and greenhouses are defined as agriculture, thats OK. I think the thinking, among the enlightened rather than the ignorant, goes like this:

1. Gravel is earth.

2. Gravel is more stable than clay, so you can run machinery on it without mud.

3. Gravel absorbs water.

4. Gravel cleans water as water trickles through it.

5. Water that enters the earth stays in the earth, until it fills groundwater aquifers, with pure, clean, gravel-filtered water.

6. Like a fridge filter!

It’s as if the earth were a machine. And what do you do when the machine doesn’t work, because gravel, clay, hillsides and soil in a dry country grassland don’t combine according to textbook principles, because those principles are not based upon this environment but upon ones born in regimes of excess water, which adapted to that water long, long ago? Well, in an industrialized, petroleum-driven culture under budget constraints created by zoning parameters, you build a French Ditch:


Excess Water Made to Go Away

And what is a French Ditch? Well, it’s a ditch full of rock. I.e. it’s a septic tank, a kind of sewage disposal device, that keeps excess water below ground.

You know, it’s sad. The land just wants to create a wetland, wherever it is cut or damaged, or wherever water appears. Irrigating the fields creates wetlands. They form spontaneously all over the place. Thing is, they’re kept in a juvenile state, full of algae and… isn’t that the same as a septic lagoon? Haven’t we turned the hillsides into a sewage plant? Oh my, there I go again, with my poor socialization on display for all to see. You see how rough I have it? Instead of seeing the light, I think of the ditches being filled not with semi-radioactive rock from the quarry on stolen Syilx land over the hill but with rushes, reeds and, ta da…

P1170095Weeping Willow

Weeping willows can take up  250 to 1750 litres of water per day. They also remove toxins from the water.

Here’s how you plant a willow: you cut off a twig, stick it in a bucket of water for a couple weeks, then stick it in the soil. If the soil is wet, you can just stick the stick into the soil. Hopeless, aren’t I. Well, in my defence, let me point out that among all my failings I do recognize that there’s a problem with the willow idea. All that water, you see, needs to be returned to the lake bottom, instead of being evaporated by willows into the air. It needs to replace the water that was stolen from the earth-sky-lake cycle by diverting it through the houses of the city in the first place. OK. Fine. But first, would it be completely inappropriate to ask why is the water sprayed on the dry hillsides during the day, then, when 65% of it evaporates in the first place ? Might it be that human culture in these parts is one that understands water and rain but not drought? Might it be an English culture? Might it not be imported from England? Where it rains? A lot? Maybe. Gee, I dunno. OK, what about this:

P1170146Water Cress

Here at the bottom of all the “soil-filtered” water at the bottom of the hill.

That’s what the land is trying to create here: life, rather than a system of raw elements (soil, water, air, etc). Why, instead of eroded vertical ravines, might there not be systems of stone or concrete steps that pool water on the way down, instead of fighting it, and in those pools might not a valuable agricultural crop  be grown? What if instead of algae, the result of the erroneous thinking that soils (and not the bacteria within soils) purify water, the pools looked like this?

P1170148 I mean, given that the land wants to create wetlands, to replace the wetlands that have been filled with gravel at lake level, might it not be cost effective just to create them instead of the water systems that are dysfunctioning up on the hill at the moment, because of regulations built upon wrongful understandings? It’s just an idea, you know, but you could harvest this darned stuff, you could solve any contamination problems, you could have stable paths going up and down beside it, and you could just let the people eat it, even. Why not? Why does land have to be turned into cash, which is then used to create food banks to feed the people? Why does it have to cost so much, in terms of petroleum resources, constrained by the needs of machinery for roads and simplistic solutions? Well, that’s politics and planning, of course. It doesn’t have to be like that, though. It’s not a law of the universe, only a law of a system of regulations. One thing is for sure:

P1170094Night Lights

The culture that took this productive land (absolutely covered with food crops) from the Syilx, has to create industrialized plots out of earth, use industrialized water (called “waste water”, because there’s no other planning category for it, hence it is ‘waste’ to the planning system), and even recreate the sun, in order to produce anything at all and to create enough of a surplus to pay for itself. And where does that sun come from? More machinery.

MicaDamMica Hydroelectric Dam, Columbia River, Source

It might all be good, you know, if it didn’t lead to poverty and disrespect, such as this, right back where we began…

P1170113Maybe the initial disrespect, the theft of Syilx land, is still playing itself out. Maybe that’s the ultimate zoning decision, that is constraining all acts that follow. Maybe if we got that one right, we’d set up the conditions to get better regulations and better actions to follow, and we could lead the land to death rather than an ability to even absorb water. Maybe. Man, I’m glad I’m not a city planner. It must be murder having to keep trying and trying to adjust the system, and to continually be thwarted by a dwindling reserve of capacity within the land and water and a dwindling reserve of cash from the people. It’s about enough to make a guy stick a garbage can right by a park bench, that’s what it is.

5 replies »

  1. Appreciate the dry sense of humour you approach this tragedy with – and the insight into what can guide a healing of the open wounding – embracing the ecological context of indigenous food “systems” – and social compacts that choose to stop an ongoing active genocidal process that will take us all down if we don’t learn to see in this way – there is so much beauty and abundance to learn to embrace. Thanks for nurturing our eyes to see this way…


    • Thanks, Treothe! I edited it and tried to add a bit more humour and clarity and clean up all of my formatting glitches. Hopefully the effort paid off. Best, Harold


    • Thanks, Simonne. I’ve had a chance to edit the post a bit now. Hopefully I’ve made it better. best, Harold


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