October 12, 2006

Bear Takes a Bullet in the War on Sprawl

Trashing the burbs:
Local bear takes a bullet in the fight against sprawl.
Volume 07, Issue 41
Oct. 12 - Oct. 18, 2006

Last month, a feisty 135 kilogram black bear decided it was time to, 'bring the war home' when it comes to urban sprawl in New Brunswick. The rebellious and furry scamp was shot dead by a conservation officer for encroaching on the suburban property of a homeowner outside Saint John.

"Every time a subdivision is built, you are cutting down trees and displacing some form of wildlife," admits Brent Roy, spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources, who administer New Brunswick's public forests.

I wonder what bears would do if they were armed and could shoot troublesome humans; the creatures who instill fear in their children and wreak havoc on their places of residence?

The bad boy bear of Saint John, perhaps an even hairier re-incarnation of revolutionary icon Che Guevara, had become increasingly "bold"; "showed no fear of people" and "resisted wildlife officers' repeated attempts to capture him," according to CBC news reports.

"There has certainly been major suburban growth across the province," says Inuk Simard, forestry campaigner for the conservation council of New Brunswick.

"Around Moncton, especially Dieppe, and in the Marysville area (outside Fredericton), where I work, houses have been growing like mushrooms. It's even a major change from this time last year," said Simard, who speculates that improperly orchestrated urban developments, along with clear-cutting, herbicide spraying and other badly planned human actions are destroying the forests which animals call home.

Overzealous bears aren't the only ones being beaten down by the burbs; as a system of urban planning, they aren't much good for humans either.

Suburbs are organized around one mode of transportation: the private automobile. As a constructed living model, they represent all that's unsustainable and socially destructive about the western mind set.

People of the same kind, age and income stick together. Society, that messy, mixed-up, erratic body of humanity, ceases to exist. Individuals are compartmentalized; life is pre-realized.

There isn't much good about America these days but New York City, one of the world's most densely populated regions and the antithesis of suburbia, is still an impressive creation: for Western notions of progress and maybe humanity in general.

New York's people are tough, sophisticated and multicultural; its buildings are massive pyramids to human achievement, towers of steel and glass that prove we can live together in large numbers, in a highly imperfect, yet inherently real society.

The burbs are by definition boring. They were first conceived in the United States during a post World War II building binge spurned by returning soldiers looking for the security of a detached home. And the availability of cheap oil. Today, the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention considers suburbs a health hazard.

Americans make fewer than 6 per cent of their daily trips on foot, according to studies by the Federal Highway Administration. Suburban Canadians probably aren't much better. Could this be connected to rising obesity rates?

In dense cities, like New York or even Toronto, more people walk or use public transit because it is possible to do so.

For developers looking to make a quick buck, suburbs make economic sense.

For the rest of us, they are far more expensive than proper urbanization.

Building roads, laying water pipes and providing other infrastructure, costs more when houses are spread further apart.

"It doesn't seem to me that any of those greenbelts around cities in N.B. are undergoing long-term land use planning about where development should occur," says the conservation council's Simard.

"It's mostly left to the developers themselves to buy the land and develop where they see fit." Putting developers in charge of urban planning is as socially responsible as letting Yogi, or the St. John bear, guard your picnic basket.

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