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Hitting the tipping point

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There comes a point in time when small changes can quickly add up to transform an entire community.

Take American suburbia of the ’60s for example.

Forty years ago the times were really a changing when black families began moving into predominantly white neighbourhoods in the suburbs. After a certain number of black families moved in, the white families would begin moving out.

This was called the “tipping point,” a term coined by political science professor Morton Grodzins.

There is another tipping point when locals, who have set up home in a little slice of earthly paradise, begin to resent the intrusion of outsiders who come and change things. I noticed it first-hand last weekend as I soaked up the rays of summer’s end.

The little B.C. paradise I found myself in over the long weekend is a community in transition. It’s not just the soaring property values, the proliferation of development and the hordes of new people that’s changing; in some respects a way of life is changing too.

It’s evident everywhere, particularly on the patio of the “pub” where locals and guests savour their beer in quiet contentment.

Each passing car is met with the cry “slow down!” and a shake of the head. It’s only 10 km/h down this stretch, perhaps the city-folk aren’t aware.

There was a time not too long ago when hardly any cars passed by. People walked or rode their bikes and maybe the odd beat up pickup truck or K-car would cruise by.

But just recently a Lexus was spotted, and while they’re not commonplace they are, perhaps, a sign of things to come.

The cars, however, are the least of the worries here.

Land is being developed here at a furious pace.

The skeletal outlines of new summer homes dot the community in between well-loved cabins.

Like the Lexus, these summer homes aren’t like the ones that were here already. They are bigger, more luxurious, and they are swallowing up more and more land.

Take the little cabin that was once surrounded by trees on all sides. New places have been built directly behind and on one side. You can almost see inside the windows from home to home.

Strange in some ways that the little cabin, which cost about $20,000 years ago, is now worth 20 times that with all that development on its fringe.

When there’s only so much developable land to go around in a community, it quickly becomes a hot commodity.

It’s a good investment for the ones who got in early, to be sure, despite the rising property taxes, but now it’s too expensive for the average person looking to buy a second home. This place is fast becoming a bastion for the wealthy.

The explosion of new homes has also put a strain on the local infrastructure. Problems have arisen in the water and septic systems.

Planning the community on paper hasn’t caught up to what’s actually taking place on the ground. And that’s the crux of the problem. There’s too much change too fast and people feel their way of life slipping away from them. It has created a ripple of resentment.

You can hear it in the wistful voices of those who have been around for a long time. It’s a lament for times gone by.

And they are, for the most part, powerless to stop it.

Even when I mentioned in an off-handed remark that I should write about my wonderful experience here, one local asked me not to put pen to paper.

The message was loud and clear: too many people know about this place already.

But it’s too late in some respects. The secret is out.

It made me think about Whistler and what it must have been like for locals to see it grow into the number one ski resort in North America.

Were there times when they gathered around the local pub looking almost in amazement at how things seemed to have changed in the blink of an eye? What was the tipping point when some decided enough was enough and set their sites on quieter shores?

In some ways it’s like stopping the inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be a lament.

With proper planning, there can be room for both the old ways and the new to live side by side. Preserve some land, control development in order to meet the infrastructure challenges, and welcome people to a way of life where you don’t go more than 10 km/h.

There doesn’t have to be a tipping point.

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