Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fun in the suburbs

There are a lot of myths about suburbia. One being that there is nothing for kids to do.

Well, in my neighbourhood, known locally as a suburb of London, there are lots of parks and open spaces. At the end of one court, the local kids have managed to hang a swing from a not so low lying branch.

One way of knowing what one is reading is myth and not fact is if the claim being made is that all, fill in the blank, are this way or that. Nothing, well almost nothing, is always one way. If that is the claim, be suspicious.

To grab this picture all I had to do was walk across the court from my front door. I can also walk to the grocery store, to my choice of drugstores, to my choice wine stores, to my choice of banks, to restaurants -- not chain places, either, and  . . .

I believe that the suburbs are not given the respect that they so rightly deserve.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A few dandelions today, many more tomorrow

Weed control in Ontario is almost a thing of the past. Oh, golf courses can spray weed killer, anything to encourage a healthy sport. Healthy that is except for walking on grass treated with poison. And farmers can spray weed killer on food crops. Hey, the stuffs harmless, just ask Monsanto.

But on lawns or in parks the application of weed killer is a no-no. This spring the dandelions are worse than ever. Although, I rather like the bright yellow flowers but this is not something one wants to admit to in polite society.

The yellow flowers are already going to seed and the spring breezes are carrying them everywhere. Next spring will be wonderful --- if you are a weed lover.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Butterfly Conservatory

The Butterfly Conservatory in Cambridge is about an hour and a quarter down 401 east of London. Today it was somewhat wet, somewhat cold. A poor day to do anything outside. I thought it would be a perfect day to visit the butterfly conservatory. The crowd would be light.

My wife called my granddaughter's other grandparents and they picked up our granddaughter, Fiona, and all came over to our place. Together we made the trip to Cambridge.

The tropical exhibition hall is warm and humid; it has to be for the comfort of the at least 2000 free-flying tropical butterflies and moths. All the butterflies and moths originate in either Costa Rica or the Philippines and are sent to to the conservatory weekly as pupae (also called chrysalides (butterflies) or cocoons (moths)) from tropical butterfly farms.

Butterfly farming is a sustainable form of agriculture and ensures that natural populations of wild butterflies and moths are not depleted.

With so many butterflies and moths flitting about, it is not uncommon for one or two to land on a visitor's head or hand. People are advised to refrain from trying to pet, or touch in any way, the delicate little insects.

Butterfly on a visitor's boot.
Apparently some butterflies are attracted to salt. Boots, flavoured with salt from trudging along snow covered and heavily salted winter sidewalks, are a strong attractant.

The warm, humid air made me sweat lightly. I had two butterflies light on my moist, somewhat salty, bald head. The butterflies tickled and Fiona laughed.

At the emergence window, Fiona and I watched a butterfly dry its wings in preparation for its very first flight after pulling itself free of its pupa. Some butterfly species are reared onsite giving visitors a chance to observe all four of the stages of metamorphosis: egg, caterpillar, pupa, and butterfly.

There are approximately 40 different species of butterflies and moths at the conservatory. Its a great place to take a granddaughter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is it too late to look for my shadow?

It is now almost mid April and the weather had turned pretty cool. A few weeks ago it looked like we were about to enjoy an early spring. The unseasonably warm weather encouraged the local magnolia trees to bloom.

Very little is blooming today. There is frost almost every night. I wonder if the groundhog that lives in my backyard is still looking for his shadow as he supposedly did back on February 2nd, Groundhog Day. Sunny weather in early February portends a late spring.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cookie-cutter housing; I like it.

A row of attractive cookie-cutter homes in North London.
I love cities. I'm fond of the countryside, too, but it is cities that I love. As a boy I used to bike about my neighbourhood taking notes. On returning home I would add the stuff I had noted to a large map of the area. In my young mind, I was an explorer.

Mine was a "wartime housing" neighbourhood. My street was 52 similar homes on three city blocks --- a true cookie-cutter development. I learned to study those homes and note what had been done to add a little diversity. The siding was varied, some homes had shingles, others had wooden planking. The colour of the homes was varied with some grey, some white, some deep green . . . . The height of the homes varied as some were single floor homes and others were two floor. To prevent someone looking down the street and seeing 52 very similar homes in a very long row, the home were staggered on the lots. A short row of one floor homes might be forward on their lots, while a following row of two story homes would be placed farther back on their lots.

I noticed these same visual tricks were used in what I called the "brick home neighbourhood." Although the brick homes did not look to have all been built at the same time by the same builder, there were often two or three almost identical homes grouped together. One home might have yellow brick and the other red but they were the same style of home. Over the years I saw the insides of many of these homes and can attest that the layouts were identical.

And so, I have been left puzzled by the comments of writers critical of suburban developments. "Suburbs don't have to look like 'human filing cabinets' ", Randy Richmond of The London Free Press tells us. As if building a row of similar homes is unique to suburbia.

These writers toss about the 'cookie-cutter' remarks all too freely. There can be a beauty to repetition. It all comes down to what exactly is being repeated.

New urbanism, an approach to development favoured by these writers, results in very rule-guided structures. And this isn't a criticism. Rules can be good. Think Paris, France.

A new urbanist community north of Toronto.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another look at housing evoution

With its front porch intact and colourful landscaping, this is a lovely heritage home.
When built many decades ago, the small cottage homes that dot London provided relatively inexpensive housing. This is not always the case today. Many still present a simple but elegant face to the street but inside they have been upgraded, modernized, and rear additions have been added, expanding the homes to sizes unimagined by the original builders and occupants. It is not uncommon to find these homes have had multiple additions over the intervening years.

This once-small-home appears to have had two rear additions expanding it size.