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Great communities don’t happen by accident

Grizzly Giant - one of the largest trees in the world
Grizzly Giant – one of the largest trees in the world

When our family took a two week holiday this summer along the coast of California from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back through Yosemite Valley, I expected to be wowed by great urban centres and spectacular nature. What I didn’t expect was a lesson in community building.

This area is home to soaring cliffs, oceanfronts, waterfalls, mountain meadows and some of the biggest trees in the world. It’s also where I spent my earliest years.

My father worked for a time as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park and our family lived in the park. I recall being “homeschooled” in the front of a camper with flashcards as we ascended dirt switchback roads to get to our cabin (occasionally getting out for own own safety when the road was particularly steep and narrow). My mom remembers asking what I’d like to learn first. My response, “Well I don’t know anything yet it doesn’t matter where we start.” My family would remind me of that in later years as we debated issues across the dinner table.

El Capitain - a climber's favourite
El Capitain – a climber’s favourite

In retrospect, when you’re motivated to learn, create, build, preserve, it truly doesn’t matter where you start – so long as you do start.

These thoughts came back to me as my husband and I and our own three kids hiked among forests, cliffs and waterfalls. Everywhere we went a common theme emerged – great cities, national parks, historic public buildings – they don’t happen by accident. These special places are there for us to enjoy because community-minded residents came together to make it happen. And in every case they enlisted – and needed – the support of their elected representatives.

Consider Muir Woods National Monument on the edge of San Francisco, world renowned for its old -growth forest of redwoods. In the early 1900s, there were pressures to develop the area and dam Redwood Creek, which would have destroyed part of redwood forest. In 1905, local resident William Kent bought 612 acres of Redwood Canyon to preserve it for public access. But the battle was just beginning.

Yosemite Valley - where I lived for a time as a child
Yosemite Valley – where I lived for a time as a child

In the fall of 1907, a year after the great earthquake increased demand for water and timber in San Francisco, a private business – North Coast Water Company – filed proceedings to take over part of Kent’s park to build a reservoir. That would have flooded the canyon and required logging the redwoods.

Kent appealed to the president. Kent gave 298 acres of land to the federal government, and in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt declared the tract a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. Over time the park boundaries have increased, with more land coming into public ownership.

As we stood among the redwoods, it was hard to imagine the area ever being threatened. We were enjoying the park because of the efforts of people more than 100 years before us.

At parks, public buildings and oceanfront beaches across California, the theme was the same: these special places were there because residents sometimes more than 100 years earlier had dedicated time to build and protect them, working with elected leaders to see it through.

I regularly meet residents like this in Burlington. They are stewards and community builders of the great spaces and places that make our city unique – though I know they see themselves simply as ordinary people working for the common good. You’ve read about them in previous newsletters, and can read more about them in this and future issues:

  • The Friends of Freeman Station, who are working to preserve this unique train station for future generations. Read below about their move in September.
  • The Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition, a group of residents from rural and urban areas of Burlington dedicated to preserving Burlington’s rural area for future generations, with an immediate focus on the infill activities at the Burlington Executive Airport. Read the update below.
  • BurlingtonGreen , a citizen-group which has launched community gardens, run community cleanups, organized beach plantings, and are advocating for a tree protection bylaw in Burlington.
  • Burlington Waterfront Committee, a group of residents from across the city working to preserve and enhance waterfront access for all residents, currently focused on the future of Beachway Park, and the LaSalle marina expansion. Read more on both below.
Our kids in a giant sequoia tree in Mariposa Grove
Our kids in a giant sequoia tree in Mariposa Grove

These are just a few examples of the hundreds of residents who donate their time to make a better Burlington. Great communities don’t happen by accident. They take hard work, persistence, and vision for what they can be now and in the future.

It’s too easy to take what we enjoy for granted. As Joni Mitchell said, Sometimes “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

I’ve returned from two weeks refreshed, inspired and grateful for the many residents I’ve met who are stewards, visionaries and promoters of our city and everything it has to offer. You don’t take anything for granted. I am honoured to serve with you. Let us together be good stewards of our community for the time it is entrusted to us.

Great communities don't happen by accident - Ward 2 News Burlington
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Great communities don't happen by accident - Ward 2 News Burlington
When our family took a holiday along the coast of California and back through Yosemite Valley, what I didn't expect was a lesson in community building.

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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