Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Any ideas? The time has come

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By G.D. Maxwell

Why isn’t Ken Achenbach running for mayor?

I don’t know Ken. Or maybe I do but, like so many other people in this town, don’t know I do because we’ve never actually exchanged names or aliases. For all I know he might be a crackpot, although given the current choices for mayor that may be a requirement this year.

But his letter last week was wonderful. It captured the spirit that used to ooze through this town, a spirit that was corralled and damn near extinguished in our most recent quest to become famously known as the town with the best damn strategic plan in the solar system.

It was a reminder of the kind of thinking that made this town what it was and hopefully can become again – vibrant, alive, dancing on the edge and leading the way.

It didn’t come from a team of overpaid consultants. It didn’t take half a decade to come to the point. It wasn’t bound in phonebook-size volumes. It didn’t obsess about what its ‘brand’ is.

And it made so much sense it’ll probably never get taken seriously.

If you missed it, Ken’s idea was spawned in response to Tourism Whistler’s request for proposals for some smart cookie to devise a use for the driving range during winter when its current use is as a field of snow. TW wants someone to create a family-oriented attraction that can be dismantled – or melt – by the time golfers feel the urge to feed their addiction to go smack balls in the spring.

But Ken one-upped them. Why not rip out the driving range entirely and build a surf park?

Why not indeed, whatever a surf park is.

One of the many hits the outgoing administration of Aloha O’Reilly has taken is its sheeplike reliance on outside consultants to do the heavy lifting. "Why," the lament goes, "are we looking outside for ideas when there are so many smart, talented people living here we can engage if we can get them off their mountain bikes long enough to actually contribute something?"

Let’s face it, what we’ve heard so far from the people actually running for office is exciting enough to make you want to roll over and go back to sleep.

Whether it’s the stillborn idea of an airport that’ll cost a bundle and bring close to zero incremental bodies to town or whether it’s the almost holy grail-like status the sludge hockey arena has achieved as the panacea for our ills, the excitement factor, the coefficient of Wow, the gee-I-want-to-go-to-Whistler buzz being generated is outstanding only in its complete absence.

And not to be unkind to the people I seasonally work for but guys, I think you’re running low on reality pills if you really believe a peak to peak gondola is going to generate the kind of excitement that – what was that example? – Niagara Falls does.

But Ken’s idea is a textbook example of what Tourism Whistler claims they want to do, our elected leaders claim they want to do, Whistler-Blackcomb claims they want to do… but in reality rarely gets done. Thinking outside the box.

Thinking outside the box is an idea so abused by box dwellers I almost feel soiled writing it. Whenever I hear someone saying they’re thinking outside the box I cringe in anticipation of their next utterance, which will probably be that they’re shifting a paradigm. And the only thing I can know for certain is that they’re so far down inside the box it’ll take the sun going supernova for them to see the light.

Like all interesting ideas though, Ken’s set the box afire and challenged the status quo. It posed a question: Why do we want to tart up a pointless space for half the year when we can reclaim the space for something better?

Having walked and driven by the driving range countless times, it’s absurdity never failed to impress me. Not just the general absurdity of driving ranges in general but the idea that smack dab in the middle of one of the most vibrant and expensive places in the whole country there’s this vast expanse of land that sits fallow as a farmer’s field all winter and, on a per square foot basis, probably generates less revenue the rest of the year than any other business in town… including the vast acreage of both Whistler and Blackcomb in the summertime!

And to top it all off, like Ken said, nobody comes to Whistler because we’ve got a really neat driving range. Nobody… ever.

So, what happens when a bold idea and a real opportunity coincide in time and place. Odds are… nothing. The box dwellers will carry the day. The reasons the driving range should remain a driving range – tinkered with a bit so it’s not just a field of snow during the winter – will be sober and thoughtful and safe, mired in the search for brand extension instead of new direction.

Ironically, that reflects all too accurately what’s happening with the election that’s afoot. It’s in danger of becoming a soulless rerun.

Not to belabour the point, but there seems to be a collective amnesia in town about how relieved we all were when our former mayor packed his bags and headed to Victoria. In the absence of any new ideas, since his campaign hasn’t seemed to spawn any yet, Ted’s running on his record. "Remember the good old days when I was mayor," he says. "I got things done."

Well, if we’re supposed to be remembering those times, I’d likely have to dredge up some memories of the bad old days as well. Days when terrified muni staffers made presentations to council looking like so many deer caught in the glare of hunter’s headlights. Days when… well we’ll save those thoughts for a later column and hope this race turns into a search for what a candidate can do for us in the future.

And what of the other candidates? We’ve got Nick, who’s platform so far seems to focus on seeing how many different constituencies he can alienate every time he speaks. Buster, who while an interesting guy seems to mostly be looking for a job. And Shane, who is certainly the most qualified for the job… at least in his own mind.

Excuse me but is this really the best we can muster? Doesn’t anyone with more ideas and less baggage want to sign up for a thankless job that pays peanuts?

We’re waiting.