For better or worse, a neighbour is a lot like a sibling. There’s an indelible connectivity between neighbours, and, as with siblings, that bond is often experienced in the most intimate of ways, be they hostile, loving or, as is sometimes the norm among fractured families, ostensibly indifferent. Suffice it to say that, in any family, the doings of one member often impact those of another.
Whistler has long been the most successful member of the Sea to Sky family. Ever the A-student, always in the best shape and with the coolest clothes, the resort municipality has typically been viewed as the family jewel. And sometimes a family needs that, especially if that particular jewel operates a huge business and has all kinds of extra work for its less entrepreneurial brothers and sisters.
But autonomy is among the holiest of grails, especially if you happen to be dependent on your siblings for a pay cheque.
In Squamish, autonomy is rising on a number of horizons. According to numbers crunched by the Squamish Sustainability Corporation (SSC), about one third of the town’s 8,300-strong workforce merges onto Highway 99 every Monday to Friday morning. Some are bound for Vancouver, others for Whistler. All are in pursuit of employment responsibilities.
In Whistler, that relationship has registered in a number of corners. According to the Whistler Housing Authority, there are 14,000 jobs in Whistler during the peak winter season. Four thousand of those workers come from outlying communities, be they Squamish, Pemberton or anywhere else not within the resort municipality’s boundaries.
“Locally here, we’re trying to do whatever we can to work with the federal government and immigration on extending foreign worker programs,” says Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. “And we’re making sure we have our own strategies for housing employees and attracting the best and brightest to Whistler.”
Thing is, a lot of people are interested in the best and brightest, and some of those people make their living behind soon-to-be flesh-magnets in places like Squamish.
The District of Squamish Downtown Neighbourhood Plan (DNP) is the product of people well aware of the town’s commuters, and one of its goals is to create a live, work and play environment.
“The majority of our zoning downtown is three storeys,” says Dave Thomson, business development lead with the SSC. “The first is retail; the second is residential; and the third is residential. The retail portion of the current zoning is quite small, and depending on who you talk to, it’s not big enough.”
And so a utopian downtown Squamish would turn that dynamic on its head. There would be four-storey developments, and therein would be two floors zoned for retail and office.