Dispatch 5 – The Princess of the Internet
So, once upon a time The Globe and Mail published a story called How the Maritimes Became Canada's Incredible Shrinking Region. This made me sad. I want to stay. How small, though, does a place need to become before you get squeezed out? And, I wondered, is there anything I can do to keep the walls from closing in? I turned to friends for ideas. Now, I share some of my own.
Writer & Content Strategist
Why I choose to live in Canada’s “incredible shrinking region”:
I was born in outside Moncton, New Brunswick, went to university in Halifax, Nova Scotia and like many Maritimers, eventually made my way to Toronto to make my fortune.
I loved it there. I loved the people, the job opportunities, the food, the things to do, the ferry to the island, Kensington Market with its cute boys who sold cheese and its Saturday morning frenzy for fresh empanadas and I loved my friends. I loved being anonymous. In Toronto you can – wait for it – go to a bar or café and NOT run into 20 people you know.
Then, when I hit 30, it stopped being as much fun. I was tired. I was tired of hearing Torontonians talking about how tired they were. I was sick of the subway emergencies that spilled a seething mound of cranky humans onto sidewalks. I was semi-to-moderately still heartbroken over relationships gone wrong. I wanted to go home.
And so I did. Less than a month after arriving back in the Maritimes with my two cats, a decent resume and a lot of clothes, I found a job in Halifax – a good one. I made friends – mostly with people who, like me, had been away, loved it and had come home again. I bought my very own condo – because I could.
It was on Spring Garden Road. Being pretty much a non-driver, I loved living downtown. I walked to the gym, to the grocery store, to work, to restaurants. I got home at a reasonable time after work. I ate right. I lost the pudge I’d gained whilst self-soothing by mainlining dynamite rolls and Gilmore Girls toward the tail end of my stint in Toronto.
I missed Toronto and my friends, but I made a good salary and could afford to go back to visit.
I moved back because I could live the way I wanted, because it was time, because I believed that there was life beyond Bloor Street.
I still live within walking distance of everything. I have a dog now too and can walk him to the park. On weekends my husband and I spend our afternoons wandering the city or the South Shore or the Valley. We frequent local restaurants, stocked with food from nearby suppliers. It tastes good. I have regained some pudge, but for happier reasons. I have a different job, a good one and lots of friends. I visit Toronto frequently and I still love it too, but I’m always happy to come home.
My specific ideas for stopping the shrink include:
1. Focusing our attention away from sprawl and toward walkable, transit-friendly spaces full of parks, retail and mixed-income developments. If people move outside the confines of the city for more space etc., let’s all be happy for them. However, moving outside of central locations means understanding that you are sacrificing one thing for another. And I’ll just leave it at that.
2. This may be controversial and I don’t have children, so I realize my perspective is not as passionately personal as others, but I believe we might want to think about fewer elementary/junior high schools in cities and communities, not more. As an observer from outside the system, the more schools we have the more we seem to cultivate an us/them culture. People from one neighbourhood send their kids to the closest school. Likeminded people often group together, meaning … well … you get a lot of same-y-ness. I’m not talking about bigger class sizes, or fewer educators, but the careful and thoughtful cultivation of the meeting-of-the-minds from different backgrounds. How does this stop the shrink? I’d like to think that cross-pollinating backgrounds, beliefs and ways of thinking will ultimately result in a richer culture for communities, thereby making them more dynamic places to live and work.
3. The Great Anti-Debate – I propose a fundraiser – during which politicians from each party, from each Maritime province, pick a topic and then … switch sides. Each debater must go off and research the opposite argument from the one he or she usually supports. The debates will be held publicly and the winner will get to donate the funds raised to the charity of the party’s choice. We need different ways of thinking and to learn to hear the other side more clearly. Being forced – in a fun way – into doing so, might have long-term results.
4. The creation of a Maritime-wide tourism Initiative – If someone is coming to visit the East Coast, chances are they’re coming to see The Maritimes, not one province over the other. Why not band together? (I know that the Maritime provinces do work together on various levels for tourism, but I’m talking big time, well ... bigger time). Yes, still work to promote your own, individual provinces, don't disband what you have (at all), but pool a larger amount of funds together and create programs that stretch across boarders through a Maritime tourism working group.
Coordinate branding and messaging so visitors enjoy a seamless, high-quality experience no matter which province they’re in. Highlight the unique discoveries – Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton, New Brunswick’s rich Acadian culture, Prince Edward Island’s obsession with Anne of Green Gables (haha, just kidding, plus many other things PEI, don’t get mad). Then, amp up the similarities – the local seafood, the natural beauty, the coastline, the beaches, the wildlife … you get the idea. Create itineraries, trip plans and programs and cost savings that benefit those who are looking to hit the road and stop along the way.
5. More along the tourism lines, consider looking into what Air BnB and HomeAway have to offer. I’m not talking about cannibalizing the hotel industry, but many visitors are looking for a different accommodation experience. Also, to be frank, some regions within the Maritimes are woefully short on comfortable-to-luxury accommodations. Work to identify places where services like Air BnB might fill in the gaps and then identify ways to integrate those offerings with the overall tourism and hospitality offering. (Worried about hotels? Why not offer packages like Stay Two Nights in a Hotel and Earn a $50.00 Air BnB Gift Certificate? Or vice versa.)
6. Be welcoming. We need more people here, period. We need more people with different ways of doing things. We need entrepreneurs from all over the globe. We also need to look at our aging population as a benefit, rather than a hindrance. Are there ESL programs that the recently-retired-but-still-want-to-be-working-on-some-level could foster and teach? Could we leverage other retirees as volunteers who are properly set up to help guide those new to the region through the day-to-day tasks or paperwork required to get set up?
7. Set the bar – countrywide – for mental health and special needs integration. Work with our universities to establish research grants and centres devoted to research around treatment, but also around fostering an environment of support and understanding. Make this part of the world so dang attractive to anyone struggling to find a place for a beloved family member that we won’t be able to keep them away. They’ll come, find a welcome for their family, buy a home, work, bring more family, have more family, go out to restaurants, brag about their hometown and so on.
8. Here’s a crazy idea, that I can’t claim as my own, but I find intriguing – have the provincial elections in New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia on the exact same day. Force cross-province debate, collaboration and compromise. Once united in electoral waves, the entire region should become more powerful and less discombobulated during federal elections, thereby becoming more of a force to be reckoned with for Ottawa. A collective voice is a louder voice.
9. Also – this is a whole separate blog post – but I would like to see the Maritime media do something daredevil-y. Flip the industry on its head, make the most of the fact there’s a journalism school in Nova Scotia and set up labs. Actually embrace the disruptive nature of technology rather than run from it. Accept the fact the advertising model is over etc. Because we are small, we can be more nimble and our Fail Fast attempts can hurt a bit less than they might for a Toronto-based media empire. (Again, a post for another day.)
10. That Maritime cities, towns and villages are forward-thinking when it comes to town planning and design. We need to create and maintain spaces people want to visit and nurture beauty and efficiency. (Also, let's all just say NO to vinyl siding whenever we can? Moncton, I'm talking to you.)
My current frustrations are:
A reluctance to try something radically different.
The difficulty we (and everyone in a democracy, really) seem to have with looking beyond one election-cycle mandate. Let’s give people time to get things done you guys. And hey – you guys who are the boss – think long-term, be brave.
The lack of a quick, efficient, attractive way to transport tourists, visitors and heck – even Maritimers – properly throughout the region.
Our hesitance to speak up and defend those who need us most.
That people who want to come home get to do so without sacrificing their career.
That people around the world see the Maritimes as the goal and not the go-between.
If you've read this post until the bitter end, I thank you. Want to weigh in? Leave a comment here or tweet me @somethingwitty. Later this week, Princess of the Internet shall enjoy some light-hearted celebrity daydreaming, so if frivolity is what you crave, stay tuned.