Reimagining Salt Spring: forward for the better, not “back to normal”

The following letter to the community was published in The Driftwood, in the Exchange, and sent to all elected officials on Salt Spring.

This is an offering to our Salt Spring Island community in these troubled times where crisis and opportunity form the double faces of our current situation — as a community, as society, as a planet.

In order to get through this to some kind of better normal, we all need to raise big questions. We need to talk about what’s hard to talk about. That’s what we are trying to do here. In doing so, we might upset some of you. We can’t get this all right but we want to start the conversation. This is coming from a place of care and concern about the world we live in. And of hope for the one we could co-create.

What if we don’t go “back to normal” on Salt Spring Island?

Normal was nurses and teachers without stable housing. Normal was tons of visitors travelling by CO2 emitting planes, ferries and cars to go for a hike and have a nice dinner. Normal was watching the Sysco food trucks drive off the ferry and past fallow farmland every single day. Normal was locals avoiding Ganges all summer because of the traffic congestion on an island vulnerably reliant on visitors. Normal was complaining about trash and crime instead of tackling the poverty, mental health, addiction and housing issues in our community.

Normal was having no time to hear birdsong. Normal was plastic takeout containers and Amazon packaging. Normal was helplessly watching the orca sink to extinction. Normal was allowing people to blast mountainsides and kill forests to build dream homes. Normal was under-paying people for the jobs it turns out we needed most.

Normal was seeing a thousand bright possibilities for how our community could actually be fade beneath the mucky layers of regulations, bureaucracy, busyness and bickering.

Instead of going back, let’s imagine a better way forward.

What if the Salt Spring Saturday Market was geared to Salt Springers and a food market didn’t need to be a tourist attraction because every community had at least one?

What if community-driven investment were the norm for islanders with money? What if these same islanders dumped all of our obscure investments fuelling dark futures in the global casinos, and put that money to work right here, building a better Salt Spring? What if that first investment was a sold-out series of community bonds to fund the development of new mixed rental housing for our elders and families close to Ganges village?

What if instead of hassling residents on liveaboards for dumping sewage into the harbour, we worked together to bring this type of housing out of the shadows? What if, at the same time, we stopped people from clearing large tracts of Douglas-firs for pretty views from glass houses?

What if we stopped burning wood waste? What if instead of squandering that capital into thin air, we sent it to a new community-owned facility to chip and compost right here on Salt Spring — the loamy dividends shared with island growers and gardeners?

What if governments enabled rather than stifled the innovation we so desperately need right now? What if they said “No, not that . . . but how about this instead?”

What if our emergency neighbourhood PODs all came alive to build community gardens as a hedge against fragile supply chains threading the planet? What if that resulted not only in heaps of delicious fresh food but in new local supply chains — between the hands and hearts of neighbours?

What if we worked to restore our forests by culling deer to heal the understory, conserve water and promote fire resilience? What if we also helped rebuild the clam gardens all over our island, with the Tsawout, Cowichan and Penalakut communities?

What if we stopped building big houses with empty rooms and made it easier to build small ones instead?

What if instead of watering rhododendrons and flushing toilets with precious water from our lakes and streams, we used water captured from our winter skies?

What if our children spent more time with our elders?

What if we cut each other’s hair?

We have a chance at a new economy on this island and everywhere. Normal wasn’t working. What if we made a new localized, caring, green economy central to how we live beyond the COVID crisis? Sure, let’s clean up those orphan wells in Alberta, as the federal government has pledged. But instead of making more mess, let’s build something better there, and here.

Crisis. Opportunity. Two faces on the same coin.

Let’s take some time to rescue the good things out of the wreckage. But above all else, let’s not lose the opportunity to re-imagine.

It’s time.

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