Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thoughts on place

More musings from the BIO thread, in response to Wynn:

The major difference with the work I do in First Nations communities and the work I do in non-Native communities is that in the first place and belonging are essential and in the second, place and belonging are dispensable. First Nations have no choice but to first and foremost consider where they are, because who they are IS where they are. For Bowen Islanders - for the most part - you have a choice about where to live. Non-native communities are all about choosing your affiliation. So place doesn't matter much. Very few Bowen Islanders have lived here more than two generations. Very few Bowen Islanders would suffer if they moved away. In a culture that is born from migration and movement, place becomes "location" and "location, location, location" becomes a mantra.

I think an honest discussion is in order here. As a Bowen Islanders does place matter to you? I know it matters to you Wynn, and it matters a great deal to me too. I made a declaration a few years ago that I would live out my days on Bowen, and while never saying never is a good policy, having that kind of perspective changes things. I'm not looking to flip my property or move when the "the old Bowen" disappears. I'm here to make it work to become in essence someone who is as native to this island as he can get. My kids think of themselves that way, and I think there is something very important about seeing the community like that - very important for the social fabric and social capital in our community. That we see ourselves as part of this place.

But not everyone sees life like that. Many people have a line in the sand. The first time a chain store appears on Bowen they are leaving. Or when their property value peaks, they'll sell out and move somewhere else. Or they are here as long as the work lasts, or the relationship lasts, or it's time to put the kids in high school and they leave. For people with no intrinsic tie to place, the kinds of goals and visions and notions of character we are talking about don't matter, and they don't make much sense. To include them in an OCP seems idealistic in a way that is different from what Paul is talking about. It seems impractical. These folks often raise objections to the Islands Trust mandate as standing in the way of useful development, because the mandate is about protecting character among other things.

This is a very serious cultural divide on the island. It is the root of some conflict but it is alos the root of a lot of apathy. If you don't care about place other than what it will do for you, then an OCP seems like a fanciful process, and one that, unless it optimizes your property or business opportunity, is a waste of time. Or unless it impacts your property or business negatively. Then you show up. But that is a kind of apathetic way to participate. It is not co-creative and not driven by the need to collectively own and steward the future of this place.

For those of us who treasure place, thos other people look insensitive and opportunistic. For them we look like dreamers. But both of us know that deep down our perspective makes sense for a livable community and that for THIS community, the Official Plan needs to recognize both mindsets in a way that brings us together.

Bowen is not a First Nation, and so the mindset that does not recognize place needs to have a place here too. The conversation is about including each other in the future of our Island, creating a useful collective future and living together well. My hope is that the intangible goals and visions are recognized for what they are - foundational to the very feel and character of the community, without which we become "just another small town." I don't want to live in just another small town. I want to live on Bowen Island.

Generic IS our is the enemy of human community.