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Professor plots course forward

Presentation focuses on promoting natural amenities

Coastal communities are well positioned to lead the way in becoming more economically resilient and, with some careful planning, more attractive to younger Canadians, said Vancouver Island University (VIU) professor Nicole Vaugeois recently.

Vaugeois, who is the BC Regional Innovation Chair in Tourism and Sustainable Rural Development for the university, and her graduate student Shannon Bence, addressed an audience at VIU’s Powell River campus on how developing amenity-based rural development (ABRD) could be the future for the region. They left having provided a recipe for Powell River’s resilience.

“The approach advocates for the identification and use of natural and cultural amenities within a region to attract people, ideas and appropriate investment,” said Vaugeois. Both natural and cultural amenities are seen as drivers, said Vaugeois, while a third amenity, service-related, is described as an enabler.

The assumption is that human, intellectual and financial capital drives economic and social development in rural areas, she said. However, she believes a paradigm shift toward amenities is what will help communities like Powell River survive. “ABRD is gaining attention by rural policy makers within Canada at various levels but what does it mean for rural and remote areas like Powell River that have high amenity values? How can they utilize their attractiveness to achieve resilience and sustainability?”

Vaugeois had visited Powell River in November with a number of students, collecting and comparing data with similar communities. Paul Kamon, executive director of Tourism Powell River, asked her to return for the January talk, Planting Seeds of Insight: Creating Resilient, Attractive and Sustainable Coastal Communities for Tomorrow’s Generations.

Some key points in the presentation included changing demographics. Powell River has an aging population. The mean age of Powell River’s populace is 50.6 years old. This has an effect on what businesses operate here. By comparison Whistler’s median age is 32 years old and Tofino 33.7 years.

Access to clean water, air quality, green spaces, nature and wildlife top the list of more than a dozen natural amenities, Bence found in her masters research.

She emphasized her research leads toward young people being most interested in quality of life when deciding on a location in which to live and work.

More than 55 per cent of young Canadian adults, ages 20 through 29, would only move to a rural community if there was a good balance of employment opportunities and opportunities to live their desired lifestyle. Almost 30 per cent of young Canadian adults would move to a rural community for lifestyle related reasons even if they had to take a lower paying job. Only 13 per cent of young Canadian adults would move to a rural community for employment related reasons even if the community did not fit their lifestyle.

The idea of a one-industry town is outdated, said Vaugeois. To create economic resilience there is a need for young people to start businesses and create more vibrant local economies.

Tourism can be used not only as a sector in and of itself, but as a tool of exposure of what the town and surrounding area has to offer. Regions can share amenities and act as stronger attractants for visitors, residents and investors. It is an entire region that attracts people to visit and stay, not just a city centre, and promoting the region’s natural, cultural and service amenities is one way to keep a young, vibrant culture. Emphasizing such qualities would ultimately attract young people to move here from other places in the country.

There is a need for long-term planning to identify Powell River’s amenities and balance their promotion with their protection.

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