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My Shrinking World

Funicolare di Como Brunate
Image by JeRoseL’06 via Flickr

As a child, the world is only as big as you can imagine it to be. For many years, growing up in Sydney, my world consisted of the immediate neighbourhood surrounding our house, the local shops, my grandparents house and the occasional visit to the “city” or away to a coastal holiday destination. The fact that around me were about 4 or 5 million other people in Sydney didn’t factor in my imagination – it wasn’t important, these people didn’t have any function in my life, or so I believed.

Growing up, you begin to realize just how interconnected we all are in terms of the goods and services we provide, and that the only reason that we could live in Sydney was that a whole lot of other people lived there too, and gave my father the opportunity to practice his skills at producing advertisements. But even beyond that with the rise of globalization, all of the consumer goods we purchase, clothing, and even everyday food items come from abroad.

But something is happening to this world. Your world is getting a lot smaller a lot quicker than you imagine. Yes you still have the internet, Amazon, CostCo and can spend hours browsing through the mall – store after store of goods made in faraway lands. However, the recent economic crisis has rubbed some of the shine and glitter off the consumer model of spending. More and more, I am hearing terms like “resilience” and “buy local”, farmers markets are springing up, our local freecycle network is pretty busy, and websites like Bhubble in Rossland provide an alternative to the traditional means of buying or trading goods.

It’s almost as though community has become important again. I’m not sure if it is just a function of supposed tougher times, or if the general population is understanding how tenuous much of our social and economic context is without a strong local economy and community groups that care and are forgiving of others that are trying to make the best of the situation.

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My world is shrinking, we moved from a city of a couple of hundred thousand people to a rural town of 7,500 people – it is called a City, (but so is Rossland, and that only has 3,500 people). You see people, you recognize them and their kids. You have lazy summer evenings fishing for Rainbows on the river with a couple of realtors. You know the shop owners, the librarians, you even know the City Council, and the staff. We’ve been here in Castlegar for about two and a half years now. The Kootenays are like a back-eddy of BC, a great place to go fishing and get out of the hustle and bustle of the main current. That is not to say that there isn’t opportunity here – maybe things have quietened down since the second home market crumpled like a paper-mache house – but there are honest people making an honest living in community.


Some of this shrinking world that we are experiencing  is intentional. We wanted to live and work in a smaller community, we wanted to shorten up our food-miles and we wanted to live somewhere where we wanted to be. But other parts of it are out of necessity. We don’t travel a whole lot any more, the travel we undertake is intentional and typically planned to make the most of the journey. Even short trips, like those to Nelson just 40 minutes away, have multiple objectives. This is entirely counterculture to the Canadian dream of pickups and SUVs and we regularly feel the dissonance between our choices and those of friends, neighbours and work colleagues. We may or may not be able to transition or undergo an energy descent in place here in Castlegar, but for the moment, that’s the plan and we’re running with it.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.