Green Driveway as a Sign of Hope

by Franke James

planting green driveway. photo by lucas oleniuk toronto star

If you replaced your water-guzzling green lawn with barley would you be surprised if you were fined, and ordered to replant the grass? And had to go to court to fight for your rights to a sustainable xeriscape? Chris Turner, Globe and Mail columnist and author of The Geography of Hope writes about this very dilemma in Guerrilla barley growers go against the grain.

Happily, Turner cites our Green Driveway as a parallel and successful example to the main subject of the story, which is a Calgary art collective who cheekily planted their entire suburban lawn with commercial barley. The bylaw police have been down their throats ever since. “North York resident Franke James – another artist – fell afoul of the law last year when she turned her asphalt driveway into climate-friendly fescue. (Having won her appeal, she now boasts probably the greenest driveway in suburbia.)”

What did we do differently than the Calgary artists? (This may be useful to you if you are wondering how to challenge arcane, anti-environmental bylaws.) Knowing how complicated city bylaws are, I anticipated that our plans for a green driveway might conflict with some of them. So I first did research on the website to learn all about stormwater runoff and permeable driveways (which are allowed in Toronto but not North York). Plus I did research on green driveways and the various technologies to build them.

I also called up my city councilor, Karen Stintz, who suggested inviting the city inspectors over for a site visit. The area supervisor, forestry and inspector all dropped by to consult on how we could do what we wanted and stay within their rules. (I tried not to think about how much money this visit was costing the city, because we were trying to do something which could benefit many people.)

As it turned out they told us we could not have a permeable driveway of any type in our area! (See the news articles and mine which document the whole process.) At that point the absurdity of the bylaws prompted me to call up the Toronto Star and say effectively, “This is ridiculous. Toronto is saying they want to be green. And then they’re telling us we can’t have a permeable green driveway and we’re only able to build a driveway out of concrete, asphalt or interlock. That’s a contradiction.”

By shining a light on it in the media, city officials were ‘encouraged’ to take another look and reconsider. In conversations with the officials we arrived at a compromise solution that we are delighted with. We won approval to be a Pilot Project for the first green driveway in our area. And then with the formal permit in hand, we built it.

If we had just gone ahead and ripped up our interlock driveway, and replaced it with a green driveway, I feared that the City officials would slap a big fine on us, and we’d have to go to court to challenge it. Who needs that kind of problem? The only beneficiaries would be the lawyers lining their pockets with our money.

Instead we worked with the system to figure out a solution in advance that the bylaw police could live with and that we would be happy with. I don’t buy into the thinking of doing what you want, and then asking for permission later. It can too easily backfire. And instead of being on the good side, you’ll be used as an unfortunate example of what happens when people don’t follow the rules.

Take note: For those looking for signs of hope, Chris Turner will be in Toronto on Monday, Feb 18 to deliver his Geography of Hope visual tour (a narrated slide show) at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom.

Geography of Hope slide show on February 18
Where: Gladstone Hotel Ballroom
1214 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario
When: 7:30-9:30pm (doors at 7pm; the room fills, so arrive early!)
Admission: free
Hosts/Sponsors: This Is Not A Reading Series (Pages Books), EYE Weekly, Gladstone Hotel

Our front yard used to be interlock from edge to edge — 34 feet! Here’s a photo of the new front yard landscaping. The green driveway (10 feet wide) is on the right side with a foot path up the middle of it. The trees and plants occupy the remaining area. Many of our neighbors have told us how much they like it — and we love it.


3 Responses: 3 Comments

  • Julie says:

    Hi Franke,
    You’ve described a really good example of “guerilla educating.” (I just made that up!) What I mean is, not only did you allow the City folks to save face (by not just going ahead and breaking the “rules” and making them punish you), but you gave them the opportunity to learn something they wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

    Nice to see that this seed you planted is still growing. (And your “walkway” looks great. Gotta change the language, too.)

    Julie out on Pender Island, BC

  • It’s a wonderful idea! I only hope those trees are dwarf’s because it they aren’t, they are going to cause trouble in a couple decades.

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