The arguments in Elizabeth Nickson’s June 29 editorial never go out of style. For over a century community organizers have been labelled as outside agitators by people attempting to benefit from the perception of an urban/rural conflict.
Conspiracy theories abound about the funding sources and sinister motivations of environmental groups who work in rural areas, but it would do communities well to look critically at whose interests this story line serves.
The recent controversy over urban sprawl in the Juan de Fuca (JDF) region is a perfect example.
Part of the allure in rural living is the independence of existing outside urban regulations and restrictions. Real estate speculators are playing this card to suggest that public interest in protecting the Juan de Fuca region is an attack on this independence. They suggest that it should be their choice to build new subdivisions and that interference from other communities or from the Capital Regional District is inappropriate.
Many aspects of rural freedom deserve to be protected, but the freedom to flip land with impunity is not one of them. Suggesting it is does not protect the rural lifestyle, it aims to destroy it.
There are fortunes to be made rezoning property in the Juan de Fuca region for vacation home projects. Each time this happens a precedent is set making it difficult and sometimes illegal to deny similar applications. One subdivision outside Jordan River, could lead to another near Shirley and another just outside Sooke. All of these will eventually require servicing from the region that will outrun the tax revenues they generate. Moreover, each one brings a little bit more traffic congestion, more noise, garbage, light pollution and a bit less privacy. Each bump in population also creates a corresponding bump in urban style regulations and bureaucracy that many people came to the JDF to avoid in the first place.
People in the Juan de Fuca region make their living off the area’s forests. A coastline of seasonally-occupied vacation homes eliminates potential for tourism revenue that families in places like Tofino and Ucluelet thrive on and it would destroy opportunities for sustainable forestry operations. Although realtors claim that their projects create other employment, these tend to be seasonal, low-wage service industry jobs and in the long run this pattern drives people into cities to find work, destroying the vitality of rural areas.
The Dogwood Initiative and Wilderness Committee have given considerable time to this issue and our involvement has been plugged into the same tired narrative of urban activists trying to steal autonomy from rural communities. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Neither of our organizations would set foot in a community where we weren’t wanted. Our work in the JDF has been inspired and enabled by opposition from local groups such as the Shirley Education and Action Society, and the Jordan River Community Association, members of the Shirley Fire Department and countless individuals from the Electoral Area who continue raising their voices against urban sprawl.
Characterizing this opposition as wholly existing outside the region, and employing simplistic urban versus rural narratives is a transparent attempt to discredit legitimate concerns of local residents. It uses the pride that communities in the JdF have in their independence against itself.
Vancouver Island Campaigner