In Whose Interest?

Across North America popular interest and progressive land use planning is being side stepped by developers who’s systematized power to manipulate political and legal procedures buys them the freedom to promote reckless urban sprawl.

When I talk about development on Vancouver Island in terms of urban sprawl, big box stores and luxury condos up and down our Wild Coast there are always “rational” people around who tell me to look at both sides of the story.    They tell me about all of the layers of consultation and the land use by-laws that hold developers in check.  They say that I’m being rash and unreasonable.  

Developers and politicians have been bullying their way past communityinterests since colonization started on this continent.  Hundreds ofyears later much of our best farm land is buried under subdivisions andindigenous land rights are still being ignored at the first hint of aprofit.

In the past two years the CRD has seen a Forest Minister condemned by the auditor general for giving away 28 000 ha of government controlled land to a forestry company.  Sacred Native caves have been bulldozed, soldiers threatened peaceful protestors with machine guns, a forestry company sued the CRD because they didn’t like their zoning bylaws and the CEO of the Bear Mountain development has just been accused of misappropriating 25 million dollars. 

The structures and processes that I’d like to take comfort in only work when everyone plays fair, but developers seem to be making up their own rules and getting away with it.

This circumstance is hardly unique.  The same story can be told about nearly every city in North America.  How many times has Wal-Mart sued a municipality to build superstores where they were not wanted?   I’ve lost count.  Developers and politicians have been bullying their way past community interests since Europeans landed on this continent.  Hundreds of years later much of our best farm land is buried under subdivisions and indigenous land rights are still being ignored at the first hint of a profit.  

For these results to occur with such geographic and chronologic consistency suggests a bias in our community decision making processes.  Laws are being consistently bent and challenged and stretched so effectively that one has to wonder who interests our systems are intending to protect.

The layers of consultation and bylaws that my “rational” critics remind me of generally favour people who have power to use courts and lawyers and back room deals (aka. The 2007 TFL deletions and WFP’s lawsuit) to get what they want.  So the issue with urban sprawl isn’t with the by-laws or processes themselves, but with the power structure that controls them.

An overwhelming majority of people on Vancouver Island agree that defending our environment and building a locally sustainable economy is good for all of us.  Developers and off island corporate interests have demonstrated a grossly different agenda lately and as the CRD is debating by-laws that open the Wild Coast up for development one has to wonder how far the rules will be bent and stretched this time.

Our community needs to put its foot down now to protect itself from reckless development, because history shows us what happens when we trust laws and courts to do that for us.  This process of assertion will have many faces for many different people.  Smart growth involves promoting high environmental standards, protecting recreation areas, building strong unions, creating internally sustainable economies and many other tactics that will help us take power away from a dysfunctional system and give it back to our community.

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