Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | January 8, 2010

Izala: Trees

Trees shade the sun and filter the air. They look good and give us peace of mind. Why does our government rush to cut down trees? Is it a random act of green violence, or is there more behind this? There are lots of blog posts about this topic and a facebook page dedicated to stopping it.

The point of the Izala campaign, as far as I can tell, is to do two things:

  1. Stop people from claiming public land as their own by planting a ‘wall of trees’ around public land adjacent to their home.
  2. Make sure that a 1 meter wide strip adjacent to the street is free of any physical barriers (trees, lights, landscape elements, etc) so that pedestrian access is not blocked.

We can all agree that building a wall of trees to claim public land is basically property theft. It’s very easy to spot that and remove the trees. The point of contention is how to deal with isolated trees that are too close to the street. The problem is that low wage workers are given clear instructions to cut down anything that is planted a certain distance from the street. There is no subtlety to it, no way to appeal the process and it’s simple enough that any guy with a chainsaw could do it.

In Toronto, as with most developed cities, it is against the law to cut down a tree unless you are qualified and authorized to do so:

“Trees protected by city by-laws may not be removed, injured or destroyed in any way without written authorization from the city. And that covers all parts of the tree—roots included. Tree pruning and root cutting may only be done by the City of Toronto, Urban Forestry Services. No exceptions.”

I think what should happen is that for these isolated cases (such as in the image above) the owner should be given notice to appeal. Let’s say the owner is given 1 week to either relocate the tree (onto private property, or sold to a nursery) or appeal the decision. The example in the image is a great case because the owner could argue that there is enough room for people to walk alongside the tree, it’s not blocking access. There is enough room for a wheelchair to pass.

I do applaud their efforts in trying to make sure that people can walk safely in our neighborhoods. They cut down a few of our trees that were a little too close to the curb. What I don’t appreciate is that it’s being done in such a brutal and inflexible way. If they care so much about pedestrian access, they should also start slapping tickets on all parked cars that block the pedestrian path. Now that would be something.

If you feel like that’s not enough and you want to fight back, try Guerrilla Gardening.



  1. “A country where flowers are priced so as to make them a luxury has yet to learn the first principles of civilization”

  2. They don’t remove trees anymore, just large structures and protruding fences, etc.

  3. bumo, is that because a specific decision was made, or because all the offending trees have been cut?

  4. A few days ago a friend of mine’s house was visited by municipality officials and they told him that the new regulations prohibit the destruction of greenery but not entirely; they push back the garden so there is at least a pavement for pedestrians to walk on…. i think the municipality’s new regulations are acceptable.

  5. I was under the impression that it was like that all along. I don’t think they ever went out of their way to destroy trees if they weren’t impeding traffic. Still, I’d rather they did something about the cars. A limit on the number of cars per house, perhaps?

  6. As far as i know the municipal council passed a resolution where the green fences are permitted as long as that they fulfill the requirement of the needed set back which is i think 1.5 meters may be more , and the fence should not exceed 1 meter in height , so that municipality inspectors can see what happens behind the fences .

  7. There were indeed new resolutions governing the izala process and largely benefiting the residents by loosening the regulations on green fences. However, the new regulations will not protect trees and still any tree seen planted closer than 1.5 m to the streets will be cut regardless of its age or circumference.

  8. One more thing I learned from this was that palm trees are in fact protected by law!!!

    The izala team may ask you to remove them at your own time to avoid killing it (thats what they claim) but in reality you don’t have to because of an Amiri decree from the legacy of the late Amir shiekh Jaber protecting any palm tree planted on state-owned land and requiring a special authorization before it can be cut. If they cut one without written approval from the government, they are fined KD 500.

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