I have lived in Oak Bay (B.C.) for almost 5½ years, and in many ways I enjoy the community very much. The location is hard to beat, with the ocean on two sides, in a very mild climate, with a view of mountains in the distance (15 miles away, across the water). Our home in Oak Bay has a walkability score of 96 (100 is perfect), as indicated by the fact that the library and recreation centre is across the street on one side, the Italian deli is across the street on the other side, the pub is 100 metres away, and the grocery store is 70 metres beyond that. (Yes, we have doctors, and banks, and dentists, and art galleries, and much more, as well). Oak Bay is a self-governing enclave of 18,000 people in a metro region of about 370,000 people. We have our own watchful and tolerant police force making sure that all is well “behind the tweed curtain”. A tertiary treatment hospital is two blocks beyond our border. We have a world-class university on one border, and a very good community college on another.
I know each councillor by name and the Mayor is ready to stop and chat whenever we meet on the street. My neighbours appear to be substantially ‘like me’.
Yet, I am uncomfortable and, at last, I believe that I can articulate four reasons for my being uncomfortable.
1. I am living in a gated community, “behind the tweed curtain”. The fences and gates are very subtle and inobtrusive, but they are formidable. Consequently, we are not nearly as diverse as vibrant and resilient communities typically are.
2. This is the only community I have ever lived in that does not have a powerful sense of what it contributes to the world around it. In Oak Bay we know what we have and enjoy for ourselves, but we don’t seem to grasp and express any sense of an important common project that contributes to the well-being of others beyond our borders.
We haven’t claimed the University of Victoria as our own, and made ourselves its advocate to the world (though a good part of the campus is within our borders). We haven’t claimed the mantle of ‘arts heart of Victoria’, which we could do. There are undoubtedly many other powerful common projects that we could claim.
3. Given our pre-occupation with the present and the past, we seem to be willfully unmindful of the future. We talk about Oak Bay being “built out” as though that means the end of any consideration of increasing density of settlement, even though population and speculation pressure is building in the greater Victoria region. We assume that the present tax mix and tax rate will be sufficient for the District’s revenue requirements, even though a material portion of our infrastructure is more than 80 years old and will have to be renewed in the next 20 years. (And, of course, there are new infrastructure technologies emerging that our citizens may want to avail themselves of. And climatic changes may carry heavy new costs.)
4. Like all other municipal jurisdictions within the greater Victoria area, we are stumbling toward amalgamation and, in the absence of clear thinking – and clear declarations — from citizens about what they want better local government to look like and how they want it to work, amalgamation is going to conform to the perspective of the provincial government, not the citizens. In the absence of a clear-minded re-imagination of local government, bigger is not going to be better.
The essence of community well-being is:
• diversity and the celebration of diversity, including diversity that has no apparent ‘economic’ value:
• a strong and widely acknowledged sense that ‘we are all in this together’;
• a strong and widely acknowledged sense of a common project;
• a strong and widely acknowledged sense that the common project has value both within and beyond the borders of the community, and adds value to the lives of others beyond the borders of the community;
• a commitment to the future of the community, and inter-generational mentoring, co-venturing, and passion for a legacy.
A conversation about community is always a good conversation. What do you think?
(This post was edited to include “a strong and widely acknowledged sense that ‘we are all in this together’)