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Whistler’s paradox



Two university professors muse on Whistler’s social sustainability

Pique Newsmagazine asked two Vancouver-area university professors familiar with Whistler to put in their two cents about what could be called Whistler’s "million-dollar question."

The Whistler Housing Authority’s general manager and the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s community services manager said in separate interviews recently that housing and affordability are the biggest quality-of-life issues currently facing the resort’s residents. A RMOW-commissioned report considering this problem will be released to the public in the near future.

Alison Gill is a professor and chair of Simon Fraser University’s geography department, where she also holds a joint appointment in the School of Resource and Environmental Management. Her research interests include community development and planning issues in tourism environments – which have evolved from earlier research on the planning and design of single-industry mining communities.

Gill has recently focused on processes of community change associated with tourism related activities, based on her work in Whistler.

Penny Gurstein is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s community and regional planning department. She speacializes in planning, sustainable development and home-based employment and telecommuting, and is involved in UBC’s Centre for Human Settlements.

Gurstein used to visit Whistler but says it’s now too busy.

Whistler is in danger of becoming an exclusive enclave for the wealthy — something that has already occurred in resort communities such as Aspen, Colo., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., say two professors from B.C.’s top universities.

Alison Gill, who has studied the effects of tourism on Whistler since the early 1990s, said the main reason is that Whistler is starting to attract "amenity migrants."

According to Gill, "amenity migrants" are upper middle-class second-home buyers, who split time living in the city and resort towns.

"They’re affluent, they can afford to buy houses and they want urban services," she told Pique Newsmagazine .

UBC professor Penny Gurstein said the new arrivals are pushing working families who staff the tourism- and service-industry out of town.

"Homes are getting so expensive that their children will not be able to live here," she said.

"There are large houses that just sit empty for most of the year."

Gill, however, noted the trend is happening across the North American West, especially in the Colorado Rockies where communities west of Denver are growing at an exponential rate.

"The prices of homes in Aspen are obscene," she said. "Workers are being forced to live elsewhere. The out-migration of people is causing these places to become socially exclusive."