Sustaining the Okanagan 21: The City of the Okanagan

In keeping with my conviction that we would do better to build things than tear them down,  I would like to propose a new form of civilization in the Okanagan Valley. By “civilization” I mean the creation of city environments and the forms of human organization that follow. The current form of civilization gives us this:

p1430256

That’s an image from Kelowna, a Canadian-American city in the Okanagan Valley, but not an Okanagan city. You can tell because what is for sale on this car lot is an extension of American industry, focussed, through trade agreements and from there through a beleaguered  automobile manufacturing culture in central Canada, a place called Ontario, which is full of Americans with a different form of government from those down south, but not that much different, as the American technology sales centre above shows. The city, you can see below, is designed for this technology, and not for people.

p1430247

It is remarkable. If Kelowna were an Okanagan city, it would be filled with local technology, offering local culture, and extending its roots into the future. What it is currently extending is its connections to the Canadian and American rust belts, and, as you can see above, to the investment culture centred around global big oil. To understand that clearly, let’s take a step back to the big picture.

p1410547

The Okanagan Valley, a former grassland in British Columbia, is a collection of droughted weeds between certain foreign cultural interventions including golf courses, vineyards and subdivisions. It has severed its ties to its grassland past through the hard work of a lot of people, including some in the tourism industry who sell the current city’s American-Ontario offerings instead, like this:

Urban and rural; nature and culture; playtime and downtime: Kelowna isn’t just one destination. It’s a whole bunch of them, located in one uniquely beautiful place.

Kelowna lies in the heart of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, the largest city on Okanagan Lake. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly holiday, a romantic getaway, a weekend with friends, or all three, you’ve come to the right place. https://www.tourismkelowna.com

Tourists will be well-catered to, in concrete hotels in strip malls, on golf courses or on ski hills, eating at chain restaurants, and taking trips out through subdivisions to golf courses and vineyards and ski hills. It is, in other words, a theme park, a kind of Disneyland. The real economic driver behind the enterprise, though, is the sale of property in the sun to people from the colder Canada to the east: a kind of permanent tourism.

V0021656

The newcomers are happy, because they are living within their dreams. The people who’ve been here for a couple generations or more are not, because they are forced to live in the dreams of others, within an environment further degraded to support them because any environment can only support so much. This is called progress. It is based on the principle of “change”, which, in this water-starved environment is really the principle of desertification. It’s not a very successful form of civilization that can’t last more than four generations without being aquatically bankrupt. Currently, the valley is attempting to manage the acute, self-created water shortage of an improper civil model by limiting access to water on both a class basis and on the claim that the valley is a desert, and people need to learn to live in one. The thing is, it’s not a desert.

P1150953

It’s just that  there’s not enough water to sustain the current imported civic model. We need something better in its place, something in keeping with the climate we live in. The grasslands were good at that. We can solve many of our water issues and our social issues by rebuilding them. Other positive things we can do include developing new water technology on the model of our grassland plants, instead of new smartphones apps or new animated films to be shown on TVs or small screens across the world. At the moment, we have an American-Canadian-American cultural education institution, absorbing the talent of our children, who live in Kelowna and use the former grasslands not as a classroom or a living room but as a foundation for imported playgrounds (ski slopes, beaches, golf courses, vineyards and so on) as we have for generations.

Centre for Arts and Technology Kelowna is one of the top audio engineering schools, film schools, animation schools, fashion design schools, interior design schools, and photography schools in Canada. We are home to dedicated photography, interior design, and fashion studios, a film production studio, two digital recording studios, and 2D and 3D animation labs. https://digitalartschool.com

Sadly for our kids, we can’t afford this gentrified luxury any longer. The land and water are calling in our debts. All the petrodollar-based tech money flowing into the valley in the world just won’t create more water, or reduce the social strife that lack of attention to water has caused. Luckily, though, if we can keep our technology clean, simple and inexpensive, we could take it around the world. That’s one way we could sustain the Okanagan: by making it a part of the future instead of fighting to retain a past through advertising imagery.  We can only, after all, convince ourselves of so much before the gap between reality and fantasy is just too great to sustain. This is a problem coming down on us like a runaway train. We might as well face it now. To do so means that instead of following the culture of the United States we are going to have to replace it. We are going to have to learn to be home, which is a new thing for Canada, but there’s no longer any way around it, except into poverty. I have spoken about these ideas earlier on this blog. Today I’d like to add a note about civic organization, because it’s the principle of civilization that the method of organization creates the result. We have subdivisions and weeds today? They are both the result of how we have structured urban life here, period.

land

They are the same thing, viewed across a class divide.

P1050220

Neither is sustainable. The subdivisions are mining the wealth of communities across Canada, to which they belong, and the weeds in the grassland display the removal of water-carrying capacity from the land, which the presence of subdivisions and the technology that supplies them has created. The reasons are complex, but, as I mentioned, a reorganization of civic principles would be a good start to addressing them. But don’t take it from me.

Whenever and wherever societies have flourished and prospered rather than stagnated and decayed, creative and workable cities have been at the core of the phenomenon. Decaying cities, declining economies, and mounting social troubles travel together. The combination is not coincidental.

So, what do we have right now? We have a chain of communities, which were all once about the same size but have grown differently, according to different development models. They are spread for about 200 kilometres on a North-South line. The biggest of these towns today are Osoyoos, Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Kaleden, Penticton, Summerland, Naramata, Peachland, Westbank, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Lake Country, Vernon, Coldstream, Armstrong and Enderby. They all have an equal cultural claim to the valley, whether they are small ranching towns, farming towns, indigenous towns, former orcharding towns, former railroad towns, former real estate development schemes, former sites of Belgian Congo rubber money laundering schemes or former enclaves of the English aristocracy, and yet I was at a winery in the town of Okanagan Centre (in the city of Lake Country) three years ago, at which the young woman serving me wine chatted to me in a conversation that went much like this:
Young Woman: We have the oldest gewürztraminir vines in the Okanagan.
Me: Really? Older than the ones at sumac ridge in Summerland?
Note: I drove a truckload of gewürztraminir vines up from Sunnyside, Washington, USA, in 1978. That would make those almost a decade older than the ones she was referring to.
Young Woman: Well, but I mean here in Kelowna.
Note: Kelowna is the largest city in the valley, at the middle of 135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake. It has 100,000 people and most of the advertising copy-writers.
 Me: But this is Okanagan Centre, not Kelowna.
Note: the towns of Oyama, Okanagan Centre, and Winfield joined together a couple decades back to prevent being absorbed into the city of Kelowna, which would have meant a loss of political agency over their own affairs.
Young Woman: Well, those of us from Kelowna call it the Okanagan.
And that’s the thing: it’s not. The Okanagan is not an American-Canadian city plunked down in the middle of a valley, dominating the valley with its imported culture. It’s the whole thing, including the ignored grass and its indigenous people. Now, we could complain about the gap between the colonial model and what we need to survive here, but that’ll get us nowhere, so we might as well stop with all that and join together into a common vision instead: one valley, one people, many centres, great diversity, one environment, new technology and every attempt at centralization to be met by dispersal. That means building not only technology but culture out of the local environment, what we need in it, and what it can teach us. To be clear, that doesn’t include grapes, which are European plants, or at least tearing most of them out as the water-hungry weeds they are. It means building an urban model that lives in the valley, rather than from it or upon it, and that ultimately supports the valley’s land, air and water rather than concentrates them in imported, dream environments, which create deficits elsewhere. The environment should not be a space for class struggle. It should be a space of class cooperation. To achieve necessary change, the current competition in the valley, between rural and urban space, between industrial and residential water, between indigenous and stolen land (well, it is), between grasslands, wetlands and asphalt lands, between farmlands and sidewalks, between water and ethics, between one town and another, between gentrified restaurants and greasy spoons, between food banks and ice wine vineyards, between low crop yields and high profits, between foreign workers and unemployment, has to end. It has to be replaced by a system of mutual support and celebration. The valley is weakened whenever one of these threads is focussed onto the particular urban model of Kelowna, where the rooftops are surrounded in razor wire so that local people don’t sleep on them. We can come up with 100,000 reasons why this isn’t practical, with many historical models, and many sociological studies, but the simple fact is: we have fouled our nest and have to do something completely different to get it ready for our grandchildren; doing more of the same, or refining what we currently have, is not an option, because it will lead to what we already have. This, for example, is not a life-sustaining environment. It is a view of a dead arm of Okanagan Lake.
p1430523
Traditionally, this kind of work has been the role of the arts. It still could be here as well, but the principle of dispersal will have to take place first here, too. At the moment, the valley’s largest cities, Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton have all built large performance centres to showcase American and Canadian (largely a sub-branch of American) “big-name” talent. They are, in other words, American cities, or at best Canadian colonial versions of them. It is part of the program that sees New York called a “major city” and Oliver, in the Okanagan. as a small town, with this slogan:
Oliver is located near the south end of the Okanagan Valley, in south-central British Columbia. Just 25 km north of the USA border, Oliver sits in the only desert area of Canada. The attractive climate fosters popular tourist activities including summer water sports, golf and sight-seeing. Oliver is an ideal setting for growing Okanagan wine grapes and producing among the best rated wines in the world! Of course, its mild weather year-round, also makes Oliver a great place to live for local residents. http://www.oliver.ca
This relationship was set by New York, not by Oliver. We can change this. The first step is to develop the remaining farmlands and grasslands within the cities of the Okanagan as more than viewscapes —to build them as integral parts of the civilizing experience. And I don’t mean this:
p1430561
And I don’t mean this:
mh
This is good work, worthy of our young people and our ancestors on this grass. We will know we have succeeded when the downtown core and the heart of our 200-kilometre-long city looks like this:
We will know we are deceiving ourselves when it continues to look like this:
 Let’s be people our grandchildren can admire, and thank.

2 thoughts on “Sustaining the Okanagan 21: The City of the Okanagan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s