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North Island Rising: Can the future of the North Island be managed?

Can growth be managed and if so, is now the time to start figuring things out?

Many people handle change badly, or at least when that change arrives unexpectedly and leaves you scratching your head and wondering what happened. ‘I didn’t see that one coming’ is a typical response; so instead of being blind-sided, let’s acknowledge that change is coming to the North Island. In fact it has begun, albeit slowly, but that will soon change as the pace accelerates.

Our arrival here in Port McNeill a little less than a year ago is actually a sign of the early stages of change. My wife and I made the decision to come here because of the lifestyle, beauty and recreational opportunities in the area and because it had the most affordable housing on the Island. And we are not the only ones discovering the hidden opportunities of the North Island.

When we first arrived, I wrote about the pre-growth business and investment opportunities of the Tri-Port area. The blog, published in Kamloops, generated interest from business people wanting to know more. They saw potential for mid and long-term investment here that was based on underutilized locations (assets) matched to growing demand for what we have here on the North Island.

So let’s assume for a moment that change is coming whether we like it or not. You need only look to Tofino, which was once a tiny, sleepy little fishing and logging village. Ucluelet wasn’t even noticed. Squamish was a town you quickly drove through on your way to Whistler. Pemberton’s claim to fame was their potato crops. Fernie was a coal-mining town. Vernon was an afterthought to Kelowna and the list goes on. In the next 10 to 15 years, I predict people will look at our region and like all those other towns I mentioned, wonder why they didn’t get in on it before the area took off. But is that what we want or how we want it to happen? Can growth be managed and if so, is now the time to start figuring things out? And is there the political will to begin planning now? The latter will require politicians to think long term and that means beyond the current practice of planning with an eye firmly fixed on the election cycle.

Something as basic as housing will be one of the first items to feel the effects of rapid growth. If you are lucky enough to currently own your home, your equity will likely increase in unison with the improved economic activity. Unfortunately, if you don’t own, housing will become more and more unaffordable. Resort municipalities and high economic activity towns all have serious housing issues, a crisis in affordable housing. Is there a way to avoid that here? I think with good planning we can at least mitigate the downside but I seriously believe that if we’re not working on it right now, then we are doomed to follow those before us.

Stopping growth is pretty much impossible but there are opportunities to drive it in directions we want. If we can’t alter the outcome, I feel we should be proactively looking to manage it in a way that is beneficial. It is far easier to solve problems before they happen as opposed to retroactively trying to fix those things that were ignored until it was too late. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the future of the North Island. Where do you think we’re going? Is it a good or bad thing? And what can be done now to make tomorrow work well? Join the discussion – If you’re reading this online, add your thoughts either here in the comments section or with a letter to the Editor. And if you are feeling passionate about this issue, write a column (about 400 words) and email it to the Gazette. I’d really enjoy hearing from you and reading about your opinions!

Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at bill@northislandrising.com

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