Friday, June 23, 2006

Long term agricultural policy mistakes seem to have permanent effect

Civilization, fertilization and taxation

The heated debate over local agricultural lands in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and now famously Barnston Island, a close neighbour to these two districts is far from being a 'local interest' story.
A forensic study of the agriculture versus urban sprawl debate would, one suggests, lead the detective down a long road to many other parts of the world, through a tormented and conflicted labyrinth involving so much human history and socio-economic turmoil that it may leave the investigator breathless and stooped over with exhaustion. His only question may be: 'what were we thinking?'
From the time when humans first set out to plant food and herd animals for food production and then slowly organize this activity to the point where it reshaped our natural environment through industrialization, colonialism, capitalism, socialism, terrorism (any war should be considered terrorism - exemplified by the behaviour of the USSR, the US and the UK. If you have a "U" in front of your name it is almost certain that you are a bad guy; take the United Nations for instance?); and now we have urbanism versus agriculturism.
Generally, we find it hard to accept past mistakes and the result is that we look to every solution other than those which appear to own up to a previous error. In the case of agriculture we as a global community are now questioning the benefits of farm subsidies. The drivers for farm subsidies in the early days seem to have come partially from the need of the farmer himself, partially from the demands of the consumer, but also, from all appearances, the need for the right to appease the left by demonstrating a charitable nature.
As is often the case, charity in the instance of agriculture policy has left a deep and gaping wound around the world. While it is understandable that Britain, the US, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Denmark are held up as the devils incarnate when it comes to aspirations of abusing the human and natural resources of the third world, they are clearly not alone. Being nasty to one's neighbour has a much longer history; we simply find it more convenient to point to recent history rather than ancient history.
Christianity, the Trojan Horse of Colonization

Recognized as an abysmal failure, the period of European thoughts of dominating Africa, the two easts and South America, had to be re-thought. Europeans, armed with guns, Christianity and an eye for a cheap deal, set back the natural livability of the host regions quite severely. Christianity with its all its mumbo-jumbo, as it were, stands out as the ever-present Trojan Horse of colonization.

None the less, and even though the attacks by Europe on the third world lasted many centuries, the onslaught ended in abject discord and disappointment for the colinizers. We are reminded daily of Europe's failed work as the tragedy of modern-day Africa unfolds before us in the pages of our press, on our monitors, on TV networks and over the airwaves 24 hours a day.

Who might pay for this mess?
In a second and less hostile attack on the third world we in the west offered to pay for fixing what we had destroyed. The only catch was that repayment with interest would form part of the arrangement; a loan sharking scheme that even the Hells Angels or Mafia would balk at. Where physical colonization failed, fiscal colonization, in the form of international loans and subsidies, became the solution. And here we are in 2006, scratching our heads and wondering where it all went wrong. The effects are felt across the world, even on the fringes of the Greater Vancouver Regional District in a small town called Maple Ridge.

As a subject for a thesis the question ‘how has the policy of agricultural subsidization and its implementation by developed countries affected the ability for local farmers to survive?’ is only part one of a more serious question. More serious issues are those where such policies show up decades later in the form of urban sprawl, climate change and of course the effects on health, obesity among the young and the middle-aged being just the most obvious.

With a certain degree of cynicism politicians and government staff reach out to communities when the issues begin to look like reaching crisis points. Academics pile into the fray with celebrities not far behind. It is not always a waste of time. Charitable funds are established along with associations and community groups to fend off the pre-ceived or real threats.
What might a ‘pre-ceived’ threat be? That would be the kind of threat that you think is coming, but which may never come. Then there are the conceived ones which we deliver on the populace in a hallelujahing crescendo of the benign chorus and devise quick fixes such as farm subsidies to protect old life styles and perhaps healthier ways of living, loving and leaving the planet intact.
Now, all these many years on, we have failed to protect agriculture through spending and will doubtless be asked to spend more in order to fix farming so that we can spend less in the future. As long as governments concern themselves with perpetuating the myths of their role in society and fail to do more than career build for themselves, it will be some time before planet's future looks any brighter than it does today.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Third World not good enough for the United Nations?

The United Nations Third World Forum is running in Vancouver at the moment.

Given that the United Nations is fighting a daily uphill battle for its credibility and efficacy, one has to question the choice of Vancouver as the venue for this event. Perhaps a location closer to where the need exists in Africa or Asia or one of the impoverished US neighbourhoods (New Orleans comes to mind), would have made more sense and would have been viewed by the public as a more sensitively thought out approach.

Vancouver has for many years rightly earned first spot in the world when it comes to the most livable city in the world. This, British Columbia and its largest city, is just too comfortable, smug and distant from the realities of actual poverty and urban distintegration to lend any meaning to this United Nations bunfest; yet another awful example of academic preening.

The next time the guilty urge arises to hold similar event why not place the attendees and participants closer to the action. Building a Hanitat for Humanity home on Vacouver's glorious waterfront in order to ship it to a needy family on the dismal waterfront of New Orleans is simply too much of an overt public relations exercise.

Next time hold the forum in Kinshasha, Darfur or Khandahar - even Cape Town. In fact why not tie the world forum event to the 2010 World Cup Soccer and score two goals in one - a fun time plus the opportunity for all gluttony of world concern to experience the grotesque truths surrounding poverty and socio-economic decay that still can be seen along the National Road between Somerset West and the City of Cape Town.

Vancouver simply bears no relationship to anything remotely reflective of a real problem.

Beyond the Maple Ridge 2006 OCP

Some Post-OCP Thoughts

1. Discontinue expansion of urban envelope
2. Disallow any further applications for exclusion from ALR for any purpose whatsoever
3. Allow the inventory of single family, small-lot residential homes to dry up in order to reduce availability of homes in Maple Ridge and slow down if not reverse population growth. Do not accept the notion that Maple Ridge is to become a receptacle for future population overflows in the GVRD (one could expand this theory to the province generally, though not to Canada as Canada generally is in desperate need of population through immigration programs)
4. Encourage the restoration of character housing in areas such as Hammond
5. Consider even the prospect of rezoning certain residential neighbourhoods to business districts or at least allow businesses operate in amongst residential areas
6. Encourage local food stores buy from local producers
7. Discourage through traffic by tightening roadways
8. Create a ‘central station’ as a hub for buses, light rail and shared rides
9. Reduce commercial sites and business parks to brownfield locations such as old mill sites or redevelop existing industrial parks
10. Scrap the North Connector scheme
11. Allow for a handful of high rise office towers (mixed office/residential) in the Maple Meadows station area
12. Allow for the liquidation world site to become a pseudo Newport Village and include moderate office space
13. Relocate the Caring Place to where its negative impacts don’t outweigh its positive impact (uncaring though it may sound I firmly believe that the decision to establish the Caring Place where it currently sits was the worst decision ever made by the District and that the serious impact it had on regenerating the downtown has cost the District dearly in terms of what it now has to spend in order to deal with the results)
14. Focus the District’s energies on culture and the arts, education, sports and recreation
15. Let Maple Ridge be the only town in the Fraser Valley to turn its back on past planning practices

Friday, June 16, 2006

Whither Maple Ridge or wither Maple Ridge?


' lose vigour from lack of animal moisture....or to fall into decay,' are two of the many offerings from The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as to the meaning of the word wither. With a reputation among foreigners for being cryptic, the English tongue in this case, does little to disappoint. Add a single 'h' to wither and produce its cousin, a somewhat different meaning to the same sounding word in the form of whither emerges. No doubt some sage from Oxford University could provide the history for both words and whether or not they are connected through some antiquity of the language. For its part the thus transformed whither is defined as meaning ' what place......or to what conclusion, result or end, action or cause?' The temptation to take to put these two words under the blogger’s lens, in the context of Maple Ridge, is simply too strong. Whether 'tis wiser to whither or to wither is, of course, the question.

Nature's text book demonstrates more than adequately so many instances of withering and regeneration in the planets forests, oceans, deserts and rivers. The natural compost on a forest floor and how it feeds life’s process is easy for all to understand. Then there is the decaying salmon in sacrifice to the next generation; an easy example for Canadians to relate to. Salmon, in their tireless journey, whither up river to wither in order that they may whither back to where they once whithered from, before whithering on to wither once more.

Man, a species itself familiar with the withering and regenerative cycle learns from time to time the lessons of nature; and given the near-natural circumstances of homo-sapiens it is not surprising that we find succour and inspiration from so many other examples in the natural world around us.

Again, it is the whithering of Man which seems to be the base threat to his own future. Salmon may wither in order to promulgate. We, us humans that is, seem to whither in order to annihilate. Those who colonized Africa, the Americas and Asia are good examples of destructive whithering – no wonder now so many wither as a consequence.

In a few weeks the District of Maple Ridge will conclude the painfully long process known to most as the Official Community Plan. It is official, we are a community and, though some still argue its merits, it is a plan. We need it to help us deal with those people who whither in our direction on daily basis and who, by so doing, increase our numbers and the pressures normally experienced by communities suffering growth. Odd, that some communities suffer losses in population while others suffer gains. Suffering appears to be the common denominator, no matter which direction the population is whithering in.

Perched as we are in these boom times on the edge of the great circle of the Greater Vancouver Regional District and with house prices, land prices and the cost of doing business going up and up it is not surprising that along with the excitement of growth there is also a parallel sense of foreboding. And even in this anxiety there exists two -as they say- sides to the story. Some fear that growth will end; others fear that it will not.

We do not have a very large canvass, 64,000 acres in all. The picture we choose to paint on it can be no bigger than the canvass; thus shall it ever be. On the palette sits the dreams of many. On the palette we have zones, bylaws, covenants, rules, regulations, permits and licenses, all carefully filed away in the provincial and federal acts that have evolved over our short time as a sovereign state. We smoosh (a word not found in the Oxford Dictionary) all these elements around to make sense of our various communities. And everyone gets a chance to do some smooshing; particularly when elections roll around and we all get to do the big smoosh.

We talk so much about sustainability during elections these days, particularly now that it has become trendy to do so. In the context here it may be said that sustainability is the very opposite of withering. Withering, however, in the light of what nature teaches us, is very much a part of sustainability. Neglect and dereliction may be said to be foundations of sustainability; death becomes life; the dreary and the mundane are the simple formulas for imaginative and insightful outcomes; the future, a bi-product of the past.

No matter what we believe today, or who we are, nature in likelihood will proves us all wrong. Driven though we are to do the best for this larger canvass, planet earth, this is one painting that will complete itself. We may choose to whither but, wither we must.