Yesterday, our little town made a statement. In a small, but well-run, peaceful protest, the organization Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook (CLC) delivered 3018 voter response forms to force the hand of the city council to slow down, rethink, or defer to the populace on the matter of the East Hill Boundary Expansion. Our town has an official population of 18,000 or so, and in order to force a referendum on a subject there must be a minimum of 10% of that population who submit the voter response form. When you consider that there may be another few hundred to a thousand others (myself included) who did submit a voter response form, that makes nearly 25% of our town who are in favour of a deliberate expansion process. If I remember correctly, the voter turnout for the last municipal election was around the 5000 mark. total. Which means this little show of democracy gathered more input than any one of the mayoral candidates did in the last election. It will be interesting to see what happens.
What does this have to do with design? Well, here are the questions: How do I use my time, talents, and business to affect change in my world? And how do I make a living at the same time?
You see, many people in our town, and in the greater world, don’t hold to the same ideals that I do, and that my family does, and that many artists appear to. This creates a moral conundrum: when a development company, or golf course, or investment property approaches you to do design work, you want to take the job because it could potentially be a great source of income. But if you are interested in sustainable development, reasonable growth, ensuring low-income housing in your area, or maintaining the character of your town (such as it is) then you sometimes you have to make choices about what your conscience can deal with as far as accepting work and payment.
I realize it is a generalization, but often development projects or companies have a rather different set of goals than sustainable development (unless you sustainable income development). The bottom line is that the reason these developments exist is for investors to reap financial rewards from a property that was divided, developed, and resold. There are examples of companies that want to proceed in a way that creates minimal environmental impact, preserves community values, and ensures quality ownership, but those companies are definitely in the minority.
So as a design firm, we have done work for several developments in the area, and have also submitted a few ‘voter response forms’ committing ourselves to being part of a democratic process that involves slowing down the kind of work that could provide us with a good income. I have yet to find a justifiable compromise for doing both. It’s not that I’m opposed to development, not at all. I guess I just want the developments that happen to be well thought, purposeful, and necessary.
Currently, in our community, we have two large developments in progress: Wildstone & Shadow Mountain Properties. Both of these developments involved the expansion of our city boundaries. In some cases that has committed the city to run services almost 10kms to an area of development. These two developments alone increase the surface area of Cranbrook by more than 30% and add 3550 potential residences to the 6000 or so already existing. In addition to that we have done work for other smaller developments in Grey Creek, Koocanusa area, and Cranbrook, all of whom have goals to be profitable, and why not? My question is this: How will that affect us as citizens? How will that affect our business? I am torn.
So when the East Hill boundary expansion came up, I decided to let my voice stand in the methodical camp. I am yet unsure how it will affect my relationships with some of the developments we’ve worked for. My hope is that our relationship has been built on mutual trust, and that we have mutual lessons to learn, and I hope we all keep working together to make our little community a better place to live.
As an artist I have to trust my intuition on a daily basis, and that is the best way I can think of for guiding these decisions. I don’t think I am in a place I can judge the morality of one development, or one way of growth above another. All I have to say is this: Whatever we do, let’s be thoughtful and purposeful about it.