Bowen Island: Tough Choices for Us Carbon Pigs

In a Sun blog last week Kennedy Stewart described Bowen Island as the most democratic municipality in B.C., citing our high level of voter turnout (it has been declining over the past 15 years) and our information-rich and transparent website (Bowen is chock full of IT experts and communications strategists).

As a 30 year resident of Bowen Island and a former municipal councillor, what seems to me to be of greater relevance is how we have been handling the tough choices that have been placed on our plate. Bowen has grown significantly in the past 30 years. When we moved to the island in 1979 the full-time population was about 700, an interesting mix of hippies and rednecks. Today the full-time population is approaching 4,000 and is also a lot more affluent; the island only has single family homes for sale and the price tag for an entry level home is about $500,000.

As our awareness of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change has increased, it has become apparent that Bowen Island’s residents are not only increasingly wealthy, but also among the biggest carbon pigs in the province. The car ferries to West Vancouver are often overloaded, and the paved roads per capita quotient is the highest in the province; most households have two cars, one to drive all over Vancouver and the other to drive all over the island. We are essentially environmental villains.

What to do about this? There are essentially two solutions. One would be to stop people from coming to Bowen Island. After all, every additional resident is only adding to the mess that we are creating. The corollary of this position is, accordingly, creative depopulation, or at the least, maintenance of the status quo. Take every opportunity to inhibit or strangle population growth.

The second solution is one that seeks to improve our performance, albeit in relative terms. With zoning for smaller lots and the protection of more green space — with clustering of homes, and the provision of a variety of housing forms (townhouses and apartments, co-op and affordable housing), the island can both reduce its per capita contributions to climate change and become a more complete community — more socially and economically diverse, with more opportunities for social interaction (we don’t even have a community hall).

Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, the first option has considerable traction. Most people move to communities because they like them exactly the way they are. They don’t move to a community hoping to change it, or hoping that it will change. But the difficulty is that no matter what we do, the community will change; this is the lesson of the last 30 years. In the face of relatively consistent opposition to growth from a succession of local governments, the population has boomed. And the development that has taken place has generally been large lot sprawl. It may be what most people want, but it’s clear that we’re headed along the road to a virtual gated community, a nice place for the world’s affluent, a place where we can continue to proclaim: I’m rich, I can afford to waste the world’s resources.

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