To grow or not to grow…

by Yule Heibel on April 11, 2007

Or: once there was a little hamlet…

There’s an interesting conversation that Gordon Price is chronicling on his blog Price Tags. The entry in question is called The Growth Debate: Kelowna Version. I thought of posting a comment there, but since I’m a new/ recent reader of Price’s blog (and since I don’t really want to engage directly with the gentleman he’s having his conversation with, particularly since I can’t remember ever having been in Kelowna), I’ll just recommend that you read Price’s entry. And I’ll post my response here, on my blog.

Price has reproduced an email debate he had with someone named Rick, as you will have seen if you surfed over to read his post. With regard to Rick’s points: they sound very familiar to the concerns raised by anti-development people in Victoria. For example, I live in Rockland, a downtown-bordering in-city neighbourhood in Victoria. This area used to be comprised of SFHs of a “stately” nature, but its big old houses are today largely converted into apartments. We have very few families with young children in this area, yet one woman who ran for the neighbourhood association board (and was elected) wrote this anti-development battlecry in her online campaign bio: “Victoria has room to spread in outlying communities. We must resist the greed of entrepreneurs who see a way of making a killing by putting four families where previously there had been one.” (She was elected, by the way, although she stepped down after a brief stint due to other obligations. Also, by the way, there is practically NO development going on in Rockland, which doesn’t appear to deter panic mongering, however, as you can deduce from the above quote.)

She blamed recent “greedy” entrepreneurs (also called developers) for trends that started decades ago and had little to do with development and far more with recession (there weren’t enough well-off people to keep those old houses occupied at single-family rates — hence they were converted to suites: densification in fact kept these houses from decaying or being demolished outright, and therefore densification was responsible for maintaining Rockland’s “heritage” housing stock). Our dearth of families with children in this neighbourhood isn’t recent: Rockland hasn’t been known for harbouring children for decades.

This committee member is one of many who advocate literally pulling up the drawbridge, telling people who want to move into in-city neighbourhoods that they should go and sprawl into the suburbs. Our nearly moribund downtown, which had fewer residents in 2000 than in 1975, is finally experiencing highrise condo development (bringing residents and life to the core), and most of these buildings are going up on what used to be surface parking lots. But the anti-growth (yet pro-sprawl) crowd deride it as “developer-greed-driven.”

Growth means change, which is resisted. Growth is equated to degradation and illness (it’s “cancerous”), not least because it represents an allegedly out of control change. In response, people invent two scenarios meant to serve as “explanations”: one, “out of control” change symbolizes our species’ inherent self-destructiveness (and the solution is to turn back the clocks, live in the woods, hew the wood, draw the water, renounce the technology); OR change isn’t really “out of control,” because in reality it’s controlled and directed by “greedy developers” whose decadent, deracinated ways are designed to destroy the “authentic” dweller on the land.

These are fairytales for children — sometimes (as the 1930s attest) very very bad children who cause political and social disasters. They won’t help us to differentiate good and bad development, and they’ll do nothing to stop the reality of growth (and change).

{ 1 comment }

Roger May 23, 2007 at 12:24 am

I’ve been reading the Price Tags article and it’s really interesting, thanks for your comments and input about growing and not growing

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