‘Mandated mediocrity’ leaving ecosystems despoiled, paradise paved

Dear editor,

I would like to add my rant on the topics of homelessness, and the "Comox box" syndrome.

Dear editor,

I would like to add my rant to the other folks who have written letters to the editor recently on the topics of homelessness, and the “Comox box” syndrome.

Please excuse my use of long words, as I am originally British, and I can’t help it.

There was a hit song in the 1960s called Little Boxes by Pete Seeger, which had the refrain: “Little boxes, little boxes, all made of ticky tacky, all look just the same.”

His comments on the advent of suburbia were well ahead of his time, and he envisioned a rather bleak future.

Fast forward to the present.

I can understand Gillian Parker’s letters where she laments what she sees as the paving over of paradise. However, I think it’s less about the folks she mentions who live on Spitfire Road and other war-torn streets, and more about the lack of choices that are available to those who inhabit these supposedly bleak enclaves.

Since the end of World War II, around the mid/late 1940s, there has been the ubiquitous march of suburbia, strip malls, and freeways to nowhere. Some see this as inevitable, and welcome these results of so-called progress.

A few decades ago, big box stores loomed ominously on the horizon, their main purpose to siphon off the maximum profits they could. They promise cheap, disposable goods, that a year from their purchase will end up clogging our landfills.

Their products are made offshore (usually China), where the workers have to tolerate deplorable conditions, which would be considered a crime here.

Big box stores offer minimum, part-time wages, and are generally welcomed by councils who appear to have little awareness of the long-term impact on their communities. This often translates to the collapse of established local businesses (Read: what is now happening in downtown Courtenay.)

So what about the failed American Dream?  And who is to blame for this failure?

Perhaps, as Gillian Parker has inferred or stated, we should point the finger at the unelected staff of local governments whose main purpose is to maintain the status quo. In other words, don’t rock the boat that pays them handsomely to keep things as they are.

Maybe these people who earn six-figure salaries should be elected, just like their political counterparts. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if these “public servants” actually served their constituents, and faced the music for the mind-numbing results of their advice?

I do concede that a number of local governments now employ very dedicated individuals whose job it is to mitigate the effects of the above choices such as climate change, and work hard to promote more sustainable lifestyles.

I am sure that many people who live in “the sterile streets between Bolt Avenue and Quality Foods” in Comox are quite happy in their subdivisions. I take no issue with that.

It’s the mandated mediocrity which leaves ecosystems despoiled, paradise paved, etc. that I find so depressing. Yes, we all have to live somewhere, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in harmony with nature, rather than covering it with soulless asphalt and concrete?

So what’s all this got to do with the homeless? Maybe it’s the same myopic vision (or lack thereof) that condemns those unfortunate people that Graham Charlton described in his letter recently. Those who cant pay for the mortgages or rents, and are therefore unable to participate in the North American (Canadian) Dream. Despite wanting to (or maybe because they don’t want to), they are unable to be mortgaged up to the hilt, or pay ever-increasing tax burdens that the rest of us have to tolerate as a pre-condition for participation.

I sometimes envy these folks for their freedom, having either opted out voluntarily, or through circumstances beyond their control — like Rob, who died recently in Courtenay. I have been the happiest when I had nothing, although I never had to sleep under a bridge in the freezing weather.

Like Jerry in Cumberland, who cycles around collecting bottles for his survival. He always has a ready smile, perhaps because he has no mortgage, no credit card debt, no 9-5 wage enslavement. He appears to be always fit — so no gym fees either.

So can we be rescued from the gulags that Gillian Parker rails against? How about having some really affordable housing alternatives to the Comox Box?

Although there’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), it’s really a rich person’s band-aid concession to true sustainability. How about having homes designed not only for ecological integrity, but also actually within the reach of even those with the most modest incomes? The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Here’s where I unabashedly plug the recently-formed group I am involved in, called BC Alternative Housing. We are promoting something that will likely make many building inspectors quake in their boots: owner designed and built, affordable homes (not “spec houses”).

These use readily available local materials that don’t create toxins and pollution that are found in many conventionally-built houses. Materials such as clay, cob, straw, or cordwood. We even feature on our website a building style called Earthships made with recycled tires, used bottles and cans, and good old dirt.

You can find out more at www.althousing.org. Watch out for our workshops, coming to a location near you.

Richard Drake,


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