Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What is urban about our Island?

In a little Twitter conversation about some of the Bowen Island egovernment stuff that is alive right now, Boris Mann suggested that we look at Urbantastic as a tool for helping with community engagement.

The site itself is interesting, but I had an immediate reaction to the name and posted a little tweet about how Bowen is not an urban place, so "yes/and..." This was followed by a comment by Paul Ricket who runs our local specialty wine and spirits store, that indeed many Bowen Islanders want urban amenities. Which got me thinking.

Bowen Island is a rural place. We are an Island with a small commercial village hub, and several neighbourhood settlements. There are pockets of commercial activity along Mount Gardner, Grafton and Adams Road like the Building Centre, auto service and gas, garbage removal, the nursery, some kennels, Alderwood and the Ruddy Bakery, the last two of which are sort of combination farm/stores. There is agricultural activity throughout the valley's on the island, and some light industry as well.

Our small tax base relative to the costs of keeping things going here, especially when you factor in our rural roads network, ensures that the island will never be a city. Snug Cove is our village, and it could become even more so a traditional type of village in a rural landscape, and in the next few decades, other villages may sprout up as well. My wish for these is that they look more like traditional villages and less like "village developments" like you see in the revitalized centres of dying small towns, or in upscale places like West Vancouver. I'm not sure the moniker "urban" will never apply to this place in my lifetime.

Additionally we are an island municipality within the Islands Trust, which I happen to think is a good thing, but that extra layer of government (which many are unaware of) helps to shape the character of our island.

So what does urban, rural and suburban mean in the context of Bowen Island? We live next to the biggest city in BC, and many people who live on Bowen are escapees from the urban or suburban climes. For those that have never lived in small towns before, there is a culture shock when you move from a city to an island. Unlike places like Cortes Island, Galiano or Hornby (let alone Lasqueti!) it is possible to live on Bowen and still be an urbanite, with large parts of you life in Vancouver and your bed on Bowen. You can move here without the intention of becoming an Islander. Bowen CAN be your bedroom. We have a mix here now of people who consider themselves Islanders and people who are just living on Bowen, because the city is too expensive or too noisy or because its a great place to raise kids.

All of this makes for a very interesting mix, especially as we enter into conversations about community planning. I suspect that a variety of approaches and conversations will be used, reflecting the unique and changing character of our island community, one that balances rural values, land and marine stewardship, village life, and urban sophistication all on one rock. We have a chance to declare a unique voice for ourselves in the next few years, and I hope we can develop a unique way of doing that.


  1. As I said in a private discussion with @jamesglave, talk to the guys at Urbantastic -- they are a startup, and a non-profit, and would definitely be open to seeing what the name means to rurul / sub urbus / whatever communities.

    For what it's worth, I definitely think of Bowen as rural. I think as knowledge workers head to increasingly decentralized areas, some of that distinction may become meaningless.

    My definition of rural is no stoplights and speed limit of 40 km / h :P

  2. Chris has a finger on something. Perhaps we (at OCP meetings,town hall meetings, Roger Curtis meetings, meeting meetings...)are spending too much time visioning and not enough time seeing.

  3. I have a post pending on that thought Brad...and I'm committed to being involved in the CRC and OCP process as well, and would love it if you would join me in that.

    I want to clarify that I didn't look into Urbantastic, so my comment is no reflection of their work, but it got me thinking about how much our planning is dominated by urban models like New Urbanism, and wondering what a made on Bowen planning process would look like, given that I'll be involved in it somehow.

  4. I have an new blog post that touches on some of this rural versus urban stuff...


  5. I always feel that referring to my upbringing on Bowen as rural is stretching the definition of rural - sure it's separated but we are close to the city and our lives, our schooling, and at least 50% of our jobs are Vancouver-centric. To me a rural area is defined by where people work and by what it looks like; Bowen has it's rural bits but areas like Deep Bay or Tunstall are much more suburban - they are single-family residences on small lots without the 'mixed use' we associate with urban areas (ie shops) or with rural areas ( ie farms, repairs or livestock).

  6. Mixed rural/suburban? I don't know...the more I think about the less I worry about the labels and focus on the qualities and even these are elusive.