WELCOME TO RURBURBIA
Topographical views of Pender Island, B.C., Canada, showing degraded forest and property lines of parcels of land.
SUBURBANIZATION & THE ECOCIDE
In recent decades there has been an acceleration of suburban expansion on the South West Coast of Canada, motivated by the exploitation and commodification of unceded (and ceded) Indigenous People's lands and the rampant profiteering from land as capital. In the case of Pender Island, since 1976, the expansion of governmental brokering, zoning and urbanizing the island has resulted in widespread animal extinctions and the degradation of the island's unique forest habitat. The Tree Museum therefore centres its inquiry on the locale of the Museum and the complexities that surround its (purported) 'rural' jurisdiction.
The proliferation of suburban aesthetics that prevail within colonial relations to land prompt the Museum's use of the term 'rurburbia' to describe the transformation of forested habitats into first, colonial 'rural' agrarian landholdings, and then 'suburban' settlements. The aim is to examine how attitudes to nature and habits of clear-cutting forests, grooming, sanitizing and cultivating land are not recognized as problematic in their impact on forests and animals lives. Why is it that urban 'development' and expansion is not seen as an act of destruction akin to industrial extractive practices, pollutants etc? How can suburbanization be better understood as central to wider discourses and ongoing concerns (and growing alarm) world wide about the extinction of animals and destruction of the necessary ecological systems that sustain all life? Hence, reference to the 'ecocide' is to focus attention on how the ongoing destruction of forests and "other than human" beings persists in the escalation of 'rurburban' expansion - perversely prioritized and celebrated as spaces for human well being and sanctuary.
This page is dedicated to examining the aesthetics and politics of 'rurburban' practices from various perspectives within academic disciplines and legal cases that establish 'the rights of nature' and sources of Indigenous knowledge and philosophy. Articles will be added over time.
RIGHTS OF NATURE: COURT CASES
PUSHING BACK AT DEVELOPERS
First U.S. “Rights of Nature” Enforcement Case Filed*
Florida Waterways Seek to Enforce Their Legal Right to “Exist” - Proposed Housing and Commercial Development Would Destroy Wetlands and Streams
Orange County, FL: On Monday, April 26, 2021, the first enforcement case in the United States was filed under a “rights of nature” law. The lawsuit was brought by waterways to enforce their legal rights against a developer’s proposal to destroy wetlands and streams. The legal action was brought under a rights of nature law overwhelmingly adopted by voters in November 2020 in Orange County, Florida. Orange County, with nearly 1.5 million people, is the largest municipality in the U.S. to adopt a rights of nature law.
The Orange County law secures the rights of waterways to “exist, flow, be protected against pollution and maintain a healthy ecosystem.” The law further recognizes the authority of citizens to file enforcement actions on behalf of waterways, and directs courts to enjoin projects and activities that violate the rights of waterways.
Filed in the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, the lawsuit asserts that a proposed 1900-acre housing development, known as the “Meridian Parks Remainder Project,” will violate the rights of streams, a wetland marsh, and two lakes in Orange County. As proposed, the development will destroy over 63 acres of wetlands and more than 33 acres of streams, for residential and commercial development. It also proposes to destroy over 18 acres of wetlands to build stormwater detention ponds. If allowed to proceed, the development would eliminate and restrict the sufficient flow of clean water through the wetlands into the protected waterways, thus violating the legal rights of those waterways.
The Plaintiffs in this case are the waterways that would be affected by the proposed housing development, Wilde Cypress Branch, Boggy Branch, Crosby Island Marsh, Lake Hart, and Lake Mary Jane. The Defendants are the housing developer, Beachline South Residential, LLC, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The complaint demands that the court stop the construction of the development and enjoin the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from issuing a dredge and fill permit to the developer. The case is Wilde Cypress Branch et al. v. Beachline South Residential, LLC and Noah Valenstein, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Over 9 million acres of wetlands have been destroyed in Florida since statehood in 1845. This has had profound impacts on water quality and species, as well as flood control. Algae blooms, red tide, die-offs of marine life, and pollution, among other impacts, are severely impacting water bodies and water quality across the state. The destruction of wetlands and water bodies is also a key driver of species extinction. Chuck O’Neal, a resident of Orange County and President of the conservation organization – Speak Up Wekiva – filed the lawsuit on behalf of the affected waterways. O’Neal, one of the primary advocates for the adoption of the Orange County "Right to Clean Water" law which established the legal rights of waterways, stated, "Eighty-nine percent of Orange County voters in this past election declared that the waterways in the County deserved the highest level of protection - the recognition of legal rights. This lawsuit poses the question of whether the interests of one development corporation should outweigh the interests of over half a million Orange County voters and the existence of streams, marshes, lakes, and wetlands important to the region. The plaintiff-waterways represented in this action deserve more than just their day in court – they need to have even their most basic right to exist protected. For too long our legislators have told the public we need balance between commerce and Nature, and then folded to pressure from commerce to permit egregious exploitation." Steve Meyers, the attorney representing the waterways and O’Neal, stated, “For decades Floridians have despaired seeing our beautiful coastal waters, lakes, rivers, springs, and wetlands ruined by seemingly unstoppable development and sprawl. Florida’s regulatory system of granting permits to use, consume, and ultimately destroy these waterways has failed epically. The Florida Legislature has abandoned any real effort to protect these precious waters, and the judiciary has proven unable to do so under the current regulatory scheme. Today we start a new chapter in this fight going on throughout the world, to recognize that nature must have legal rights and the people must have the legal means to defend her.”Mari Margil, the Executive Director of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights (CDER), a national organization that assisted with the development of the Orange County law, stated, “Around the world and across the United States, a new system of environmental protection is emerging – one that recognizes waterways and other ecosystems as having legally enforceable rights. This new system is a response to the current regulatory system that serves to permit ongoing harms to the natural environment. We support this lawsuit and others across the country which seek to force developers and governments to respect the legal rights held by nature.” Margil added, “Florida is the epicenter of this shift toward waterway rights for good reason, because the state government continues to approve of the destruction of wetlands and other waterways. It is long past time to recognize that we are dependent on nature, and the continued destruction of nature needs to stop.”
*Note: on Feb. 23, 2021, the first example of legal personhood was granted to nature in Canada (the Magpie river). See Ecojustice for further information.