COLUMN: The problem with our small-town charm

Over the last few weeks, a proposed development plan for the Banks Crescent area has resulted in a considerable level of opposition.

Over the last few weeks, a proposed development plan for the Banks Crescent area has resulted in a considerable level of opposition.

The plan, for 380 senior care units, is a large-scale project and it would result in changes to our community.

There’s nothing new in the way this drama is being played out.

During the time I have covered the news in Summerland, I have watched the same responses, time and again. Only the details have changed.

Development proposals including Summerland Hills, the Wharton Street project, Patagonia and other developments all faced strong opposition from a significant segment of the population.

In Summerland, growth has often been viewed with extreme suspicion and in my time here, I can’t recall any large development which was universally embraced by the community.

Summerlanders have also spoken out when the municipality considered decisions which could alter the character of the community.

It happened a few years ago, when the Urban Growth Area in Summerland’s Official Community Plan the land swap was being considered.

It also happened when Summerland’s council was considering whether to pursue a provincial remand centre.

Even our sewer system, approved in the 1990s, was controversial. The outcry, from some, was that a sewer would allow increased densification and our town core would soon have the feel of a big city.

It’s important to raise questions and speak out when developments are proposed or when plans could affect the character of our community, and I applaud those who are asking the questions.

Still, I find it puzzling that every development or growth plan is met with so much resistance.

The reason for this opposition may lie in the way we as a community have chosen to define ourselves.

When Summerlanders are asked what they appreciate most about this community, the phrase, “small-town charm,” is one of the most common responses.

The more I think about this term, the less I like it. It’s an incomplete response which moves the focus to a number and nothing more.

At present, Summerland’s population is somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000.

If the population figure is the measure of our small-town charm, then how much growth can we accommodate before our community would be ruined?

Would we lose our small-town charm if our population increased to 12,001?

Or did we surpass our population peak many decades ago, when Summerland topped 3,000 people?

Instead of looking at population numbers, a better method would be to look at the qualities which make Summerland an amazing place.

Summerland is a community where people still recognize each other.

It’s a place where merchants and store staff often know their customers by name.

It’s a place where people will give generously to help a family coping with a disaster or a medical emergency.

It’s a place where parents and grandparents recently rallied together to preserve two elementary schools.

It’s a place where the crime rate is low and the streets feel safe.

Our best traits are characteristics which tend to show up in smaller communities, but they don’t necessarily depend on population numbers.

Not all small communities exude the same level of warmth, compassion and friendliness.

Preserving, maintaining and enhancing the best things about Summerland will ensure we will always have our special charm.

And in the end, it’s that charm, not our latest population number, which draws us here and keeps us here.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.