Reimagining Salt Spring Island: Forward for the Better - not “Back to Normal”

This is an offering to our Salt Spring Island community in these troubled times where crisis and opportunity are the two faces of the situation we face 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 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 relocalized, 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 Reimagine.

It’s time.

Submitted by Salt Spring Solutions

Elizabeth FitzZaland, Bryan Young, Jason Mogus, Darlene Gage, Rhonan Heitzmann

May 20, 2020 10:01 AM

Community Comments

  • Avatar Erinanne Harper says:

    So inspirational and exactly the conversation that is needed now! Start by attending the Community Alliance's "How do we come back better?" conversation next Monday May 25th. And before someone else bites- I'll say we already do cut our own hair and some make a living at it!

  • Avatar Arrow says:

    Excellent! Focus on our own back yards! It is not selfish or greedy to do so. It is sustainable, when we see the entire island as "our backyard". Would want throngs of tourists in your backyard? And, we got no business trying to help people in other countries be "sustainable" when we ourselves are not. SSI not only "could be" a model for all of Turtle Island, it is poised in the way of destiny to do so. Good catch on the haircutting piece Erinanne!

  • Avatar David Secord says:

    Thank you for sharing a thoughtful, vision-rich message pointing toward tangible solutions to our inseparable human and environmental challenges. I'm in!

  • Avatar mtadam says:

    Great! Next step?

  • Avatar DoloresBG says:

    I agree with every one of these many points and that is rare. However (and there is always a however) most inaction is not because there is a lack of enthusiasm or good ideas, it is that almost every good idea gets crushed by bureaucracy and the need for some sort of approval (and a thousand meetings). The ONLY way most of these brilliant ideas can be implemented is by stepping into the wheelhouse and taking control of our own bureaucracy.

    A small group (including a good economist along with a transparent budgetary system) and the continued contribution by the many valuable and well informed volunteers and action groups on our island could make incredible changes happen on Salt Spring. Ultimately however, there HAS to a person or persons here on Salt Spring open to listening to new ideas and solutions, able to objectively review them, and the ability to say "Yes! Let's make that happen!" or "No, that project or bylaw will be a detriment to our community, society, or environment in the long run and you cannot present a similar idea/bylaw for at least 10 years." This eliminates caving to specific groups, or friends, for short term gain and/or re-election.

    We could continue getting approvals from remote bureaucrats and we all see how quickly that makes things happen - case in point, creosote pillars polluting our harbour instead of a boardwalk/seawall. There are solutions. We just need to find them ourselves AND implement them ourselves. We are a creative, involved community and many of us would love to contribute time and/or money to making improvements. I thinks the many years of "you can't change that because" has taken the wind out of many of our sails. It is time to look at taking another look at managing our own island.

  • Avatar Meror Krayenhoff says:

    I am involved in an international community of building experts, who want to make a paradigm shift in how we build. We are not interested in incrementalism. We have architects, engineers, a lighting specialists, an energy specialist (me), a marketing person, media, doctor specializing in mold treatment, earthship expert, expert in digital controls, materials expert, embodied energy expert, alternative cement academic researcher, general contractor......and that's all I can think of right now. We are 25 people from many different countries with the same intent - to create a disruptive building paradigm that is so appealing that it would be foolish to build any other way. On our team we have proven capability to be sustainable for water with only 8" annual rainfall (water is used 4x), manage indoor lighting to mimic the outdoor colour temperature through the day and indoor light adjusts in the evening to maximize melatonin production at bedtime, synchronize the indoor magnetic frequency with that of mother earth, provide shelter from excessive microwave pollution (current and future 5G), resilient to upcoming climate change effects such as extreme winds, extreme temperatures, flooding, and the incursion of new pests whose range has expanded, the near impossibility of mold in the home, creating an unwelcoming environment for viruses of all kinds, eliminating all the Red List toxins usually found in homes, making the home self sufficient in terms of energy, water and sewage, having a stellar life cycle embodied energy, and maximizing hygric buffering. We have built Leed Platinum, Passive House, Net Zero, Living Building Challenge and want to take the next big step. There are a number of things that we almost know how to do (such as create the indoor environment such that occupants breathe less carbon dioxide and more oxygen than humans have breathed in centuries). It is looking like prototype development will begin in Arizona in 6 months due to the comparative ease with building regulations there, land being made available, and some committed funds. I would love to have SSI be the focus for this cutting edge work, but don't see a way forward within the coordinated silo disfunction we call government. If someone sees a quick and easy way to have this initiative happen on SSI such that this location is more appealing, please let me know.

  • Avatar cecile petra says:

    Fantastic Bryan!
    I'll add: What if the means to communicate with each other and the world was owned by us locally, collectively, and our personal data, connectivity, and health were not shaped and controlled by the whims and profit margins of global telecommunication giants?

  • Avatar Lynda Seip says:

    I am all for becoming self-sufficient and having no tourists!

    I would also like to add how great it would be to have a drive-in theatre, so we could still go to movies. : )

  • Avatar Dominic Scott says:

    Thank you for taking the time to challenge us all with provocative and important questions. I believe that Covid-19 has demonstrated to us not only the remarkable ingenuity of humans (who would have believed that much of the world could have dutifully embraced social distancing the way we have done) but also the unsustainable nature of the economic, environmental and social development path we have been on for the past years. We now have a unique opportunity to reimagine our future and the kinds of questions you have raised are a very constructive start.

    Here are a few small thoughts about possible next steps:
    1. We could take a selection of these ideas and set up some sub-groups of interested people to explore them more deeply. Examples from your list could include Food & farming sustainability; Housing & building; Sustainable tourism; Water management; First Nations & settler relationships, and Community bonds & financing, just to name a few.
    2. While no one wants to engage in endless rounds of discussion, honouring a process of discovery and consensus is very important to ensuring community buy-in. (I believe that the failure of both the “Davos elites” and the current crop of grossly incompetent leaders at the head of the biggest countries in the world today are examples of what happens when people try to ram through (often selfish and self-serving) ideas without trying to bring the community along with them).
    3. In this current Covid environment, discussions could be held through a mix of virtual and, as necessary, socially distant live meetings. There are benefits to using both virtual technologies and benefits to being able to meet and discuss live, as long as we can do both safely and with care.
    4. Many other groups of people have invested considerable time and effort in thinking about and taking action on these issues. Whenever possible, it would be important to engage these groups and individuals to benefit from their wisdom and experience. At the same time, I think the current situation has highlighted the need for fresh thinking and to be open to new ideas.
    5. For us to have a successful discovery process leading to meaningful results, there are some ground rules which can help ensure success, including: 1) Respect for people’s ideas, even if different from one’s own; 2) A commitment by all to listen more than talk; 3) Respect for people’s time and the time allotted to discussion; 4) No violence or aggressiveness, in either words or actions, both online or live; 5) No personal attacks – it’s okay to disagree but not to be disagreeable.

    If at all helpful, I would happy to help co-facilitate one of these sub-groups and/or participate as relevant. Thank you again for raising important issues for our community and for our world.

  • Avatar jessica garceau says:

    I'd like to see something done about the emissions of the low grade fuel shipping vessels use that enter our waterways on a regular basis.

  • Avatar louis theriault says:

    Great post