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Whistler’s paradox

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The same is happening here in Whistler and in the Canadian Rockies as urban dwellers flock to mountain communities such as Canmore, Fernie, Invermere and Golden, causing real-estate prices to go through the roof.

"They’re the driving force behind the rising cost of housing," says Gill, "and this is creating a barrier to the ordinary person.

"It’s a wicked problem that is not easily solved."

And then, Gill said, a certain type of NIMBYism sets in once those who have vested interests want their property values to go up.

"It’s the ‘Last Settler Syndrome,’ which creates a very exclusive community," she explained. "I’m not sure there’s a perfect solution."

Whistler’s bed-unit limit is seen as a barrier to affordability.

"It’s not based on any scientific carrying-capacity formula," said Gill. "There needs to be a shift in people’s thinking."

But Gill did admit that there would "probably be a riot" if the bed-unit limit was ever abolished.

Gill also said if Whistler wins the 2010 Winter Olympic bid, it will open a whole new can of worms.

"It’ll be a Catch-22 situation," she said. "Residents and tourists come here for a certain image, a certain ambience that is experienced in a natural, outdoor setting."

Gill said the Olympics could possibly ruin that ambience.

"Too many people feel Whistler is already too busy," she said.

Gurstein agreed. "There is no ambience anyway," she said. "Everything in Whistler is too controlled, too nice."

The Olympics? "Prices will skyrocket – which is great for some people, but not for others," noted Gurstein.

Another reason Whistler is wrestling with housing and affordability issues is, according to Gill, because the Whistler Housing Authority was not established early enough in the resort’s infancy to make any real difference.

"To try and catch up now is difficult," she said.

But Gill said there is one way to mitigate the effects of out-of-control prices of houses, and everything else from gas to groceries.

"People have to become involved in the community," she said. "There needs to be some sort of transparency and accountability so that the community has some type of power or control.

"Because when a community is unhappy, it gets very difficult for that community to function."

UBC’s Gurstein said this difficulty stems from the fact that there needs to be a collective understanding and community memory, a sense of connection.

"Whistler is not perceived as a community," she said. "There’s no common place to go hang out and have a good time.