The Illusion of Retirement: the View from the Okanagan

When industry is “housing development”…

…it means that people live in industrial sites.

They put up with it because houses will increase in value when the neighbours start building. The bigger the better.

Not “There goes the neighbourhood, but here comes the neighbourhood.”

Also, there is the view.

This is largely class-based behaviour. The people constructing these giant million-dollar houses are “working class.” The people buying them are called “middle class.” There is a curious effect to all of this, though:

the houses become the view, when one looks up. One is dominated by them. Look how the head of the land peers down through this looking up. When you see it, it sees you through the houses, just as you see it through their dominance as well. Look how big they appear!

On the other hand, when you look down, you look over others just like yourself, integrated into a landscape that is only visual.

Well, not really. Those are working class homes you are looking down on. The ones in the foreground are house trailers on an Indian Reserve, originally set aside for hunting (ducks) and fishing in the wet lands now infilled for an airport and sports fields, but now rented out to “white” people for the income they can provide. These are people who can afford to own a portable house but can’t afford to own land. Meanwhile, those who can afford land…

… are asserting their privilege, even over animal and water corridors, in this society of social emblems, and down in the older middle class/working class neighbourhoods where children are actually being raised, people are gardening.

It is, as you can see, a complicated procedure using old industrial palettes, plastic, industrial wraps, buckets and barrels, leaves and only a very little bit of soil. To solid middle class eyes, it looks a bit like a shanty town, but, really, is it any different than this industrial apple plantation, a capital-intensive industrial factory playing the role of “family farm” …

… or this work site, where working class men (largely), who have probably lived in the valley their whole lives, spend their days for a few months before passing it on to their social “superiors”, who are bringing in money and culture from outside of the valley (not to mention exotic building materials)…

…  and global kitsch:

The view from within these dwellings is gorgeous. The view from outside of them is of the dwellings. That’s how a class-based culture works. Problems of succession are ignored. When people (and neighbourhoods) get too old to maintain the illusions, the old lead paint on decorative fences simply falls onto the ground, becoming a personal failure rather than a social one:

In the end, as in the beginning, one lives in an industrial site, working hard to maintain the illusion that one is not. I actually take heart from this. It shows great political resistance on behalf of the people, resistance against a governance structure that allows only a few options for living, all based on images from elsewhere. People don’t come here to live here.


To do so, you have to industrialize it, and when you are done that “here” is gone.



No, people come for the climate and the retirement lifestyle: giant view houses overlooking vineyards that are only there to provide a view.

This is art of the highest order, but it is only accessible to the wealthy. One then lives within the painting, or photograph, and in perfect isolation looks out:

That is, until your neighbour builds in front of you. At that point, you look out at them looking out.

Such huge houses are built for entertaining, though: elaborate social rituals for sharing the view and the living space you have created to frame it. If you have the right status in the neighbourhood, you might just be lucky enough to get invited in. Borrowing the view for an evening is your reward. These are middle class problems, the class that lives in the world of art and display. Those are not necessarily bad things. In fact, they can be great things. They do, however, reveal their industrial roots, as the smog from all this development and its accompanying traffic demonstrates over the lake below.

That’s “lake mist”, a recent settler to the valley told me. “It’s perfectly natural.” No, it’s not. It’s art, and art, applied to the Earth, is an industrial undertaking rather than an aesthetic one. Again, this can be a good thing. After all, the balsam root sprouts (purple, in the foreground) and the last remaining yellow bells of the old syilx land sense below, two self-replicating and self-sustaining food crops …

… are industrial, too. In other words, it’s not industry that is at issue in the valley today but notions of status based on visual rather than essential values. It is fascinating that “self-distancing” has become so popular so quickly, while the more important goal of “self-limiting” remains so elusive. Those are both functions of class-based societies that do not live on their land but replace wetlands with ditches and recreational walking trails …

… simply because people want to believe that there is an end to industry, that one can both profit from it and retire beyond its reach. It is an unsustainable illusion, but a very human one.

4 replies »

    • The clock is ticking on this one, as the children can’t afford these piles so far from town. It will be quite the story when they get repurposed.


      Liked by 1 person

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