I don’t want to talk about water tables, sewers and lot-sizes. I want to talk about our lack of contentment with what should satisfy us. For it is not only the desire of landowners to turn a profit from subdividing acreage that will be our undoing, but our own appetites for those things cities offer.
The argument that I want to wage locally here is that there are trade-offs between the extra amenities people want and what they have give up in exchange for getting those amenities. Each amenity or service requires a certain population base to make it viable. For example, in the early nineties, Quadra had less than 2500 people. Not enough to make a dental practice work, or a full-time doctor establish himself, or a drugstore. People also had to go to the Hospital in town to get a blood test. Quite an inconvenience. But we enjoyed a rural life style with trust and familiarity and community spirit. Quality of life. By 2000 there were 3000 people and two doctors working two days each were able to succeed, and two dentists were able to practice. Great. A year or two after that another breakthrough. We got a drugstore. At last we didn't have to go to town for medications or have them sent by ferry. With 3500 people however, there are some of us who still are not satisfied. They want their cake and eat it too. City amenities and rural living. A friend of mine said that she is afraid that the sushi bar in the village will not survive unless more people move here to support the business. And a lot of people want a swimming pool built. The tax base required for that would have to be huge. As for myself, I am irritated that the local office supply store won't carry print cartridges for my printer. I have to have them order them for me and wait 8 or even 20 days for it. The alternative is to order on line and the delivery charge is twice the cost of the cartridge itself. But for the office supply store to have those cartridges on hand would require twice or three times our current population level. The owner told me that when she stocked cartridges there wasn't enough turn-over because there weren't enough printers on the island. The cartridges got stale and she had to fire-sale them.
The question for me is, how badly do I want those print cartridges? How badly do people want a sushi bar? Or a swimming pool? At what price convenience? For there is a price. The price of more people, longer ferry line-ups, more crime, less familiarity among people, less trust, less community spirit. The change can be incremental and unnoticeable as it happens but retrospectively there would be a realization that something precious and irretrievable has been lost. Quadra is at 3500 or 4000 now. Maybe at 5000 not much of our quality of life would be lost. But there would be a fulcrum point. 5500, or 6000, and suddenly we are just an island suburbia, where people walk by without stopping to say hello and store clerks can't remember your name.
And there would be another casualty of population growth too. The wildlife. Sierra Quadra asked me to mail a postcard to the minister to protest the shooting of wolves on the island. Let me put it this way, there are no wolves or cougars left to shoot on Saltspring Island. They have 10,000 people or 55 per sq.km, vs. our current 13 per sq.km. Proper game management and "smart growth" will not and has not shielded wildlife indefinitely from the pressures of human population growth. Noticeably absent from the April 28,2007 meeting were any representatives from the deer, wolf or cougar population of Quadra. I wonder how many homo sapiens they are willing to "accommodate" in their OCP? (Official Community Plan)
It seems to me that the proper course in developing a community plan is to first decide what an optimum population level for your community would be. Once you have established that, then you work down from there and fit Local Area Plans and an allotment for non-market housing for seniors and low-incomers within that framework. Ideally, growth is not something you "manage" or "accommodate" but cap, as Qualicum Beach, Okotoks and Boulder, Colorado have done. If our current political structure does not afford us the levers of control that these jurisdictions enjoy, then I would deploy my energies in exiting that structure and getting control. Growth will be limited by resource depletion---water or oil-- or by us. I would prefer that we find a way of doing it rather than surrendering to its "inevitability" and then hitting a brick wall called Peak Oil or biodiversity collapse.It should not be a given that we have to accept growth.