Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The wind casts it's vote.

Yesterday we had a glorious spring northwesterly, gusting down the strait and pummelling the west side of the island, a it does.  Over at Cape Roger Curtis, there is some construction going on of some MAMMOTH docks that no one on the island wants to see.  The northwesterlies, which at times gusted to 60km/h managed to rip out at least one of the moulds being used to pour the concrete to extend jetties out over 100 of rock, mussel beds and intertidal habitat.

Building these docks is so ill advised for so many reasons, not the least of which is that they are being built on exposed shoreline that gets hit by these winds on a regular basis.  They are not being built in sheltered bays or coves.    No one wants these docks except for the new owners on the Cape, and they want them so badly that they even went against the wishes of their friends on Council who tried to persuade them not to build the structures.  Somehow, DFO and the BC Government saw nothing wrong with the docks and they are going ahead.  I should run a pool on how long it will take for these docks to wash up on the beach.  I reckon we'll have a "detachment event" within five years.  Not to mention a complete change in the nature of the foreshore: that goes without saying.  

What is happening at the Cape, from these docks to the road building to the contemptuous privacy hedges on the "sea walk" (currently a "cedar walk") trail is breaking hearts.  Yes it is private property.  Yes the owners can do whatever they want within the terms of the their development permits.  Yes, the whole things has gone very badly over the past ten years.  Yes, it all just sucks.  You'd be hard pressed to find an islander anywhere who wou be able to express complete delight at the outcome.  And everyone has someone else to blame.

Me, I have no idea.  I'm so confused by what happened down there, and what continues to happen.  I don't know who is doing what, what is happening or who is letting it happen nor stopping it from happening.  Whatever.  It's largely over I think.

The one redeeming feature is that the Cape itself is a powerful place.  Even with all the building and blasting and moulding and logging and surveying.  You can go down there and stand on the shore and still FEEL it.  It will never be the same as it was 10 years ago, but no matter what happens there, it will be hard to rob it of it's pure power.  To experience that you can simply go down there and sit still and listen to the waves pounding the shore.  You might even hear the sounds of dock footing being pulled up by the one force that can arbitrarily decide what gets to stay - the wind and the sea.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The price of cheap outrage

A couple of years ago, around the time that tha BITE paper started publishing,  I noticed the sharp decline in civility on Bowen Island around various issues.  It really came to a head during the National Park debate, and later became deeply personal during the election campaign and in subsequent months.  Now the entire Bowfest Board has resigned after facing a torrent of abuse from islanders about the date for this year's festival.  Traditionally, it has been held on the last weekend before Labour Day.  This year they chose to hold it on Labour Day weekend.

This was the third controversy this year's committee has had to deal with.  Earlier they were the focus of an intense facebook debate after the decided not to pay musicians, but to still allow commercial vendors to profit at the festival.  Then they chose the theme of "zombies" which was quickly opposed by families with young kids on the grounds that, well, we already do Hallowe'en really well.  The date change was the straw that broke the camel's back.

But the way some members of the community have responded has been in a fashion that has become all too familiar.  Keyboard warriors flooded the committee with really harsh words on the forum and by email (and probably face to face to, or at least through the rumour mill) and now the Board has resigned.  The overwhelming sentiment now is "you have to have a thick skin to volunteer on Bowen."

This is actually true.  Whether you run for Council or sit on a committee you are likely to get verbally abused.  I have been sneered at and mocked and subjected to cheap outrage just because I dared host community conversations.  The community centre committee got the hairdryer treatment at Council recently.  Individuals get personally criticized for their views in public.  There has been an 18 month long campaign against several members of the previous Council who continue to attract vitriol, even though they haven't been involved in decision making at all.

How does this stop?  A part of me would like to see our mayor lead the call to more civic dialogue, but he was so blatantly personal during the election campaign and right afterwards that his credibility is shot on this topic.  There are a few Councillors on Council who could make a public appeal top chill out, step up and make this place a more respectable public market place of ideas.  I hope they will...I think their leadership would be welcome.

But we now see the price of this kind of tone.  It costs us.  Hopefully Bowfest will go ahead this year, but if it doesn't it will be a real tangible victim of mean spirited talk. Snide, snippy, sarcastic, rumour mongering gossip has to stop if we are to recover a sense of vibrant community life and see new hearts and minds volunteering to care for the soul of this place.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

No signs please we're Boweners

A funny little Bowenism.

Traditionally on Bowen provincial and federal elections have gone on without lawn signs going up. It's a funny thing. It's as if political debate is unseemly or something. Those who take signs are stigmatized as if they were serial litterers. And God forbid you are party campaigner and you exercise your right to place a sign on public property.

So today on the Bowen Forum the debate begins anew.. It's funny. One poster even muses about whether we have a local by law that can stop this unseemly exercise in democracy from muddying the view. I have no idea why we do this. Perhaps people feel politics should be a private matter.

I used to think it was quaint that we had this local tradition. But during the national park debate there were lots of no parks signs that went up. So now I think we have abandoned the practice. Politics on Bowen has now become personal it has become nasty and it has signs. I think it's time we realized that we can't have it both ways.

The Little Bowen mindset is getting tiresome, but its harmless and funny.
But watch how the debate unfolds and you will learn something about why people think our community should have its own standards with respect to off island politics. A funny kind of exceptionalism that looks small minded and hypocritical the more I see it play out.

UPDATE: This morning there was an NDP sign at the corner by the Catholic Church.  This afternoon it is gone. You will see this happen throughout the campaign.  What IS the word for this kind uppitiness?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Improving community decision making

How many of you live in communities where community meetings are boring affairs punctuated by outrage?  How many of you feel like influencing your local government means showing up en masse with a pettion or an organized campaign to get them to make a small change?  How many of you are just plain disillusioned with your local government and have given up trying to help them involve citizens in decision making?
And how many of you are leaders that are frustrated by citizens who just yell at you all the time?  How many of you don’t actually know what you are doing, but could never admit that in public?  How many of you have tried to involve the community once, failed and vowed never to do it again?  How many of you have strategic communications strategies (public or secret) for dealing with your own citizens?
This is what it has come to in many places.  In my local community, not unlike many others across Canada, our local Council was elected on a tide of resentment that was stoked against the previous Council.  For most of the previous Council’s term, a group of citizens mounted a campaign of smear and slander, including starting a newspaper funded by developers devoted to criticizing almost every Council initiative and culminating in an election campaign where four of the sitting members of Council were branded “The Gang of Four.”  And even subsequent to the election 18 months ago, there has been an ongoing litany of blame against the old Council and people considered to be nsupportive of the old Council (and I count myself as one of them).  The result is, on our local island, there is a real sense of cynicism.  The new Council has not created any new initiatives with respect to involving citizens, and has, if my records are straight, only one “town hall” meeting.  We have been short on dialogue and deliberation and if there are any decisions being made at all, they are being made without the invitation of the community.  It feels sad, not because somehow the old Council was better than this one, but because our community can be so much more interesting and engaged.
Over the years citizens on Bowen have self-organized not just is lobby groups to advocate for particular policy decisions, but to actually build things that local governments should otherwise be doing.  A group of citizens from across the political spectrum participated in a unique group called Bowen island Ourselves, which sought to undertake these kinds of initiatives to compliment local government services and functions.  As a result, we did things like develop a crowdsourced road status tool, hosted a parallel process of Open Space dialogues alongside the formal consultation process for our official community planning process, sponsored deliberation meetings on issues such as local agriculture and the proposal to create a national park on Bowen Island, organize and implement BowenLIFT as an alternative transportation system.  Lots of stuff.
But when the well becomes poisoned and citizens and elected officials begin just screaming at each other, fear takes over and stuff like that shuts down.  We are in a period like that right now on Bowen, and the result is that a number of decisions are being made that have a significant impact on the future of our island, especially with respect to our village centre, without having any creative public dialogue.  There is simply no place for the public to be a part of co-creating the future.  We will get open houses on the plans that Council designs with a few advisors.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.  There are thousands of tools out there that can help people do interesting and creative community engagement.  This list of decision making tools from the Orton Family Foundation came through my inbox today. What is required to choose these tools?
Well first, a local government must be brave enough to stand in front of it’s citizens and ask for help.  Assuming that you have the answers to complex questions is unwise.  Better to be learners in office than heros.  Second, a local government has to trust it’s citizens and create a climate where ideas can be discussed respectfully.  Sure there are always going to be people wanting to take shots at you (especially if you played that way before you were in office) but as local leaders, there is an art to opening space where citizens can be in dialogue rather than debate.  Third, local governments have to be serious about using what they learn and being clear an transparent about why they are choosing some ideas over others.  Lastly it helps if local government leaders actually relish their jobs and see their community members, even the ones they disagree with as interesting and worthwhile neighbours.  I have heard many local elected officials over the years express outright contempt for their citizens (although rarely does it happen while the official is sitting in office)
If you get some of this right, things can open up.  If that’s what you want.  But it takes leadership, and not just the kind that massages agendas and works behind the scenes.  It requires leaders to stand up in front of their citizens and declare their willingness to make a new start and to leverage the best of their community’s assets.  It requires leaders to trust their citizens and to relish working with them to create community initiatives and services that are loved and enjoyed by all.
I’d love to hear stories of local governments that changed their tune midstream to become open and excited about inclusive and participatory decision making processes.  It would inspire me to hope that maybe something like that is possible where I live.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Randy flickers

Every year the dawn chorus swells between February and late June.  Birds on their way north stop off here and make some noise, and the resident nesters carry on finding mates and raising young, and in the case of eagles and ravens, eating everyone else's eggs.

This year, for whatever reason we have one northern flicker that has taken up residence around our house and flies from tree to tree to roof to tree making a huge noise.  It laughs all the time - ALL the time - and then lands on top of the metal roofs or the transformers on the power poles in fron of our house and drums incessantly.

Have a listen to him laughing away.

So we are officially advertising for a mate for our randy flicker.  Come and get him, females...he's hot to trot.