Conservation Corner: With great risk comes great…..ridicule?

Conservation corner - winter 2006-07


“There is nothing more difficult, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than the creation of a new order of things…Whenever his enemies have the ability to attack the innovator, they do so with the passion of partisans.”
– Machiavelli

In the summer of 2006, the City of Kelowna attempted something innovative that involved risk. It removed 20,000 square feet of perfectly good turf at a high profile downtown location and planted Zoysia sprigs in its place.

Zoysia is a drought-tolerant grass that should thrive in the Okanagan Valley, but unseasonable rain followed the planting and washed most of the sprigs away before they could root. This left the site bare for a good part of the summer, until new grass could be established. By that time the damage was done, the media was full of stories about the “grass experiment gone wrong.”

I am sure Kelowna is not the first city to attempt something innovative, only to expose itself to public scorn. Any organization or individual who breaks the norm opens themselves up to criticism. Case in point: ‘Jane Doe,’ who was the first person to plant a Xeriscape garden in her affluent Kelowna neighbourhood.

Tired of high water bills, Ms Doe removed her lawn and re-landscaped with native plants, which took a year to become established. In that time, Ms Doe received  anonymous letters telling her to take her landscaping ideas elsewhere. Previously friendly neighbours were openly hostile, expressing concern that Ms Doe’s choice of landscaping would devalue homes along the street.

In the end, Ms Doe’s innovation and risk paid off. Her beautiful garden is now the envy of the neighbourhood. She won several landscaping awards and her yard is a highlight of the annual Kelowna Garden Tour. But, the ultimate payoff is that many homeowners on the street have followed her example, planting Xeriscape gardens of their own.

Ms Doe’s experience demonstrates the four-stage attitude shift that the public often goes through when innovative, risky ideas are implemented: 1) What a stupid idea, it will never work; 2) It might work; so what? 3) Hey, it is working; 4) It was my idea in the first place!

Ultimately, the drought tolerant grass experiment in Kelowna will be a success. By spring, the grass will be green and lush again, but this time requiring a fraction of the water needed in the past. People will likely forget the hiccups along the way, and the site will demonstrate an innovation that is badly needed in Kelowna, where more than 70,000,000 litres of water are sprayed onto lawns on hot summer days.

So, with great risk there can be great ridicule, but, if the innovation is sound, there can also be great reward. As Woodrow Wilson said, “I would rather fail in a cause that will ultimately triumph, than to triumph in a cause that will ultimately fail.”


By Neal Klassen, BCWWA “Watermark” contributor


Posted June 2008

Originally published in the Winter 2006-07 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).