The Armchair Mayor is on staycay this week. In place of his usual daily editorials and column, we offer blasts from the past. The following column was originally published July 13, 2011.
SAY SO LONG to the RIH trees.
A dozen years ago, 12-year-old Emily Ferguson led a rebellion against a bureaucracy that wanted to cut down the grand old elm and ash trees in front of the hospital.
She won. Today, she wouldn’t.
The RIH master plan this week not only reveals the fate of the trees, but is revealing for its total lack of consideration for them. Nowhere in the plan can I find any acknowledgement that removal of the trees was or is an issue.
In fact, it mentions the word “trees” only in passing. The area fronting Columbia Street is, simply, “green space” that is available for development.
“One of the most critical elements of the Master Plan is the utilization of the green space along Columbia Avenue,” it says. (Would it be too much to ask for IHA to get the name of the street right?)
A new parkade-clinical structure will “help to establish a strong relationship” between Columbia and RIH “by providing a landscaped front plaza including decorative paving, trees and water features.”
Elsewhere in the report, the new building is referred to as “the Columbia Street Parkade and Services Building.”
There are lots of reasons this plan will go ahead, and the trees lost.
One is that there is no political will to save them. In 1999, the prospect of losing the trees became an election issue as Emily Ferguson’s battle gained national attention. Though municipal politicians had no authority in the matter — just as they have no technical authority now — their vocal opposition to the hospital’s plans had a big influence on the outcome.
You won’t find that opposition this time around. They were well primed at closed-door meetings with IHA brass to extol the virtues of the plan.
Secondly, the IHA didn’t exist in 1999. Enough said.
Thirdly, this is a very different concept than the traditional ugly parkade contemplated back at the turn of the century. It comes complete with very nice looking artist’s renderings that show glass and plants and pleasant surroundings.
“Features of this building that relate to site access for pedestrians include a glazed lobby with direct access to a vertical lift that connects, via elevated bridge link, directly to the new main Concourse on Level 2, including the Ambulatory/ Outpatient programs.”
Ironically, the mess created by the Interior Health Authority makes it harder for the public to object. People are so desperate for improvements to health care, so anxious for RIH to be updated, that they feel there’s no option.
As Mayor Peter Milobar, clearly not a tree guy, remarked, “There is always trade-offs in life. Are we trying to improve health care or what?”
Oh, and one more. The trees are 12 years older. They were old in 1999; today it won’t be difficult to find an arborist to say they’re past their prime and will soon pose a danger to public safety.
Really, when it comes down to it, it’s hard to argue that a couple of dozen trees are more important than much-needed upgrades to a hospital that was built in the wrong place.
In other words, that was then, this is now. Every tree has its day; their time has, unfortunately, come.
Quite honestly, if the decision had been mine, it probably would have been the same.
Mel Rothenburger has been writing about Kamloops since 1970.