BIAs falling short in creating pollinator gardens

Toronto wants to help Business Improvement Areas make their main streets more attractive to pollinating insects.

It’s part of the city’s Pollinator Protection Strategy to provide habitats for bees, butterflies, wasps, flies and anything that crawls on plants and transports pollen.

City council adopted the strategy in 2018.

But Toronto’s BIAs haven’t been keeping up. It hasn’t helped that  COVID restrictions have left small businesses wondering if they’ll survive, let alone helping insects survive.

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“Since adopting the strategy, our city’s parks have become a thriving home for pollinators, with new additions being added each year,” Parkdale councillor Gord Perks told the city’s economic and development committee in a letter in November.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “our community’s main streets have not followed this lead, as our Business Improvement Areas have been left to their own devices, without an established guide for landscaping or plant life on our city’s right-of-ways.”

According to the city’s 36-page Pollinator Protection Strategy there are more than 360 bee species and more than 100 butterfly species in Toronto.

Butterfly in High Park
POLLINATION AT WORK: A butterfly visits a High Park garden in a photo by the article’s writer.

The strategy outlines 30 actions that groups and individuals can take to bolster pollinator habitats.

John Kiru, executive director of the Toronto Association of BIAs that oversees 85 BIAs, said in an interview that for the past couple of years BIAs have been focusing on COVID troubles with small stores and shops trying to stay afloat.

“In all honesty the last couple of years haven’t exactly been stellar for retail and BIAs. They’ve had to pivot and focus on other things.”

Some BIAs have gone ahead and created pollinator gardens. “They got some wonderful pollinators and educational materials out on the street,” Kiru said.

But others, he suggested, didn’t plan for it in their budgets. “It wasn’t like it was a mandate from the city that BIAs needed to do this,” he said.

“In normal times I would suggest that the pickup would probably be better. The one thing that could possibly help is once (the pandemic is over) that we re-promote, re-introduce this.”

He said capital improvement programs – where  the city and BIAs share costs 50/50 – could help kickstart BIAs to build pollinator gardens.

“Maybe if that were the case, more BIAs would pick up on it.”

In December council adopted a motion to have its economic development and culture division work with Parks and Forestry and Licensing and Standards and report back this coming spring about ways to help BIAs build pollinator gardens.

But Kiru doubts that’s going to happen soon, not with businesses struggling.

“An important environmental thing as this is, the focus just isn’t there,” he said. “BIAs are focusing on trying to help businesses survive.”

“I think the most rational approach is that once [COVID] is over, once we see a bit of clarity moving beyond this, that we reconvene and refocus on this.”

To learn more about the importance of pollinators and how to build gardens to help them thrive, go to Google and enter “toronto pollinator protection strategy.”