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Open Letter to James Glave February 4, 2009

Posted by paulrickett in Bowen Island.
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This is an open letter to James Glave, fellow Bowen Island resident, author of “Almost Green’  http://www.dmpibooks.com/book/9781553653202 , blogger for Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-glave/) and  OneDayBowen (http://www.onedaybowen.ca/). His home blog is at http://glave.com/. James is also on FaceBook where he has been posting his views on island development and twitter @jamesglave.


Dear James,

In the 17 years I have lived here I have never written so much and so publicly as in response to the posts in your blogs, facebook and twitter on development issues that deeply divide our community. Why, for the first time, have I been so roused when all the developer puffery over the years has not stirred a rush to comment?

I thought you were green in the traditional sense; quirky, left of centre, grow rather than make, etc. But you are a more modern and insidious varietal.  In short, you propose to help save the earth by championing a level of development that will massively and irrevocably change the complexion of the island.  The extravagant investment in your  ‘eco-shed’ is symptomatic of the thinking that building is the solution to all issues. You say we should not and cannot control growth through low density zoning and  the refusal to build amenities that can only be justified and funded by a significantly larger population and tax base. 

You argue that unless we build like topsy the island will become home to only the well-heeled. You promote sustainablity but in reality your vision is economic not environmental sustainability. The effect of this, given we have no bridge to the mainland and larger ferries cannot be accomodated without large-scale redevelopment of parkland is to turn us into an island that will need the trappings of the big cities we have come here to avoid. We will need large scale and ‘Big Box’ stores to serve groceries, clothes and everyday necessities because that will be the only way to deal with the transportation bottleneck from the mainland. We will want a Starbucks in every ‘village’. And every dense development further dilutes and fragments our identity.

Your championship of a population boom seems to be simply because you see it as the route to carbon efficiency. To take CRC, for example, you are happy to accept the developer’s bribe of parkland and money for a development that in itself ultimately will increase the total existing population by 60% and emit 5 times the carbon than the basic zoning. You then voice support for another large dense development and I expect you, now to support others – is there a limit, James? This support is couched in logical, almost unassailable, environmental terms so that we who oppose appear to be luddites, squanderers and short-sighted polluters of the worst kind. But by applying urban density rationale you encourage the very thing that you rail against  – carbon emssions generated on the island. This is the paradox, you would destroy us to save the world. A very self-sacrificing motive, except many of us do not share these pseudo-noble objectives.

We sit on the periphery of Vancouver, we have access to every facility after a relatively short journey – sure its a pain at times to take a ferry but our moat is what differentiates us from every other municipality, we have a physical boundary. Our moat makes us a relatively safe community, our moat unites us in good and bad times but our moat does not decree we have to be economically self-sufficient nor that we have to create the environment that puts a metaphorical Statue of Liberty off Snug Point. Call me elitist but I see no obligation that requires us to make Bowen into Richmond or Port Coquitlam. For mainland cities, density seems to be a good solution but they are already large impersonal societies built on industries and businesses that span the lower mainland.

James, the question every ‘old islander’ asks at time like these is why does someone relatively new to the island suddenly want to change it. You knew what you were moving to and presumably made a rational decision with all the facts to hand. So why, for the sake of your passion, would you want to so completely remake our and your community? Everyone who moves to Bowen changes it just by being here. I was part of an immigrant wave that finally moved the island from an “everyone knew everyone ” community so in the eyes of old-time Boweners perhaps my presence is also an anathema. However, I did not create new building or development nor have I ever actively attempted to change the island, I am not a property owner so, unlike you, will have no personal benefit from increasing property prices. I like the eclectic people here, the slightly down-at-heel Cove and the lack of amenities and facilities. I am happy to find on the mainland what the island cannot deliver .

As much as many or even most of us here would like, we cannot freeze ourselves in time, some change is inevitable given our proximity to Vancouver. So what can we agree on? A focus on the Cove area only for some density and community facilities is a possibility. By holistically considering our limited landmass  this makes sense as it centralises where people gather and socialise. The carbon emissions of travelling across the island must be minimal given your expectations of the future of vehicle design. Programs that might make the island more energy efficient or self-sufficient through wind/tide generation perhaps? A compromise on CRC that restricts the development to say one third of the proposed size and accept less parkland?

I do not presume that you will change your views as a result of this letter but do thank you for taking the time to read it. My only hope is that you might gain a little more empathy and understanding of why I (and many others) oppose your approach. Ultimately these issues must be resolved at the ballot box. The change you advocate for us so undermines what I love about our island that I cannot be a passive observer anymore. What you support is a huge socio-economic change for our community – the price of your vision is too high for me.

Kind regards,

Paul Rickett

twitter @paulrickett