Monday, September 18, 2006

Grass Through Concrete


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On Thursday Sept 14th I viewed an outdoor cinema about a very relevant topic to my generation: ecocide, or the loss of green space. The screening took place in downtown Guelph, George’s square, where Ed Video hosted Grass Through Concrete: The Struggle to Protect the Red Hill Valley, a video documentary by Maia Iotzova that includes interviews with activists, natives, community members and individuals concerned about the expressway currently being built right through one of Canada’s largest urban parks.

The slogan that politicians used to sell the highway project was that the Red Hill Valley Parkway would be “more than just a highway” implying that motorists could enjoy nature while they polluted it with their exhaust and sped over bridges built on the destruction of forestland. However, apparently they didn’t really need to ask for any democratic imput on it. Less than a quarter of Hamiltonians voted for Mayor Larry Di Ianni, who is the leading perpetrator behind the project. Somehow he managed to sidestep numerous land treaties, environmental regulations and the Federal Preservation Act and fulfill himself as a “roll up your sleeves and get the job done kind of guy” by starting construction of the Red Valley Parkway.

The movie shows some of the 40,000 trees to be cut down being ripped right out of the ground by what looks like a giant machine fist while angry bystanders wail. Despite the active attempts of Hamilton residents to organize protests, ceremonial fires and tree-sits, they are strategically removed and demoralized by police and other officials. There are some peaceful, understanding moments exchanged between cops, as in the one scene where they let a peaceful reverend go who merely came to sing and lead a walk through nature one last time, but for the most part, they come off as what one man who is being arrested screams at them: brutal “traitors.”

My favorite part of the film underscores how tax dollars can be misallocated to turn agents of the law against the very citizens that they’re meant to protect. You see the director herself, stopped by security guards for trying to deliver food to one of the tree-sitters. He says she can’t go any further. She then asks if the security guards would deliver the food to the bottom of the tree for her. She smiles and interacts with the sweetest politeness, though inside she was probably seething. They say “we’ll hold it here and he can come down and get it” implying that they’ll use it as a lure to arrest her friend. When she asks why she can’t go herself one of them says “this is private property” to which she corrects them: “no it is not, sir.” The land is actually public property, or at least it was. When she asks him to repeat his claim that the land is private on camera, he simply repeats “No comment.”

The film is a touching and sad portrayal of a truth that is only starting to take hold in the minds of most youth, whose children won't see what they saw of life and nature. The small group of us viewers sat in chairs set up on the concrete, longing for the grass we know exists somewhere in the real world. People walked by curious as to what the impassioned speakers on the screen were talking about. We ate free popcorn and drank hot chocolate and there were occasional hoots and hollers from the people as they identified with the views of those featured.

The protesters discuss what they felt to be a betrayal by the agents of the law, as they are arrested and removed for standing up against what they see to be the real crime. In a discussion, one of the native speakers explains how politicians and legislators use words such as “justice”. He says it’s “justice” but they are “dividing the word.” In terms of how they want to compromise over agreements that offer freedom and sustainability, for them it’s “just us.” And you want to talk about “democracy”?? What is democracy: “dem are crazy!!” The man cites countless examples of land claims that are simply ignored because of the bullheaded attitudes of politicians who, despite over 40 years of research showing the highway project to be damaging both environmentally and economically, choose to go through with it anyway.

That this park was home to 600 different plant species, 25 mammal species including fox, deer, mink and southern flying squirrel, 24 species of fish, that it runs all the way from the Niagara escarpment to Lake Ontario and that many residents were unaware of its existence before the highway was proposed is a shameful example of how we neglect our natural environment until it is eaten up by urban sprawl. Despite the fact that it is supposedly part of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Reserve, huge sections of the escarpment were literally blown out of the ground to make way for the highway, sections of the creek were rerouted, the Bruce Trail was rearranged, a PCB landfill site was re-opened, ancient native burial grounds were disturbed. As a result, a lung in the middle of a city notorious for its steel mill and its air pollution has basically been removed.

Maia Iotzova was present after the screening to answer questions from the audience and encourage us to find out more by joining Friends of Red Hill Valley. As a Fine Arts graduate from the University of Guelph she applied some of her cinematography skills along with several others to make this documentary. It wasn’t entirely intentional but after gathering so much footage of the event and experiencing something that she suggests was important but very “difficult” she managed to put together something that was very moving on a shoestring budget. She also learned the importance of not giving up. In person she seems very concerned, caring and determined. How terrible it is that something like this could happen! Even though those involved didn’t stop the expressway from going through, all the heartache was worth it because it is something that they did, and still believe in. As one fire-keeper in the film said, to stand by and just let something like that happen would be “just wrong.”

Not only will the taxpayers of Hamilton pay for the loss of a natural green space now that it is already being taken away, The Silouette reports that they are also suing the government and Sheila Copps for $75 million dollars for putting the Red Valley Expressway under an environmental assessment. The issue has been studied over and over. The studies have all said the same thing: an expressway like this will not bring more money into the city, it will not lessen the traffic problems, it will be hazardous to the environment, the health costs associated with poorer air will be astronomical and so therefore there is NO REASON WHY AN EXPRESSWAY SHOULD BE BUILT! Yet, as humans, apparently we have an insatiable desire to build more and more. It’s my way: the highway. Who said anything about democracy?

Concerning democracy (we're not crazy are we?), the moral, if there is a moral, is to pay attention to your green space. Protect it. There may be environmental regulations in place yet it takes the will of politicians to enforce them. It takes the will of citizens to pressure politicians into enforcing them. If you view "progression" and "development" in terms of short-term economic value (and people with short-term memory will), that often masks the value loss of environmental degredation, health and standard of living for the future. So don't get too caught up in the concrete jungle to remember where you food and air comes from. Make peace with the earth. It's where you came from and where you go.

Environment and Movies

6 Comments:

Blogger Mitzzee said...

holy dude...you are so deep sometimes.

12:24 PM  
Blogger QUASAR9 said...

Yeah Man, Cool article!
Ecocide. The environment is common heritage. Our & the next generations

2:03 PM  
Blogger Enemy of the Republic said...

This is a lovely discussion. I just read on your profile that you are a pantheist. Keeping our environment safe and healthy is, in a way, returning to the Divine. I've been reading a lot of Eastern religion lately, mainly on the eight limbs of Yoga, and I have been thinking about my own relationship to nature and what is truly sacred. I hope that doesn't sound too weird.

9:29 PM  
Blogger QUASAR9 said...

Hi sirbarrett
some light humour:
Photoshop Magic: Alternate Universes
***

6:09 PM  
Blogger Lord Chimmy said...

When the world is one giant concrete jungle then we will lament the loss of our green space.

People have no foresight...just hindsight.

11:44 PM  
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7:50 PM  

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