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Whistler’s paradox

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"Whistler was created instantly and it has undergone Disneyification to become a successful resort," she said, resorting to some of the standard clichés.

Gill said good leaders, strong watch-dog groups and modern facilities are key factors in creating community.

"People need to be made to feel a part of the community," she said, noting that AWARE was one of the first groups to gain any real social currency in Whistler.

She also noted the importance of the Myrtle Philip Community School, Meadow Park Recreation Centre, Whistler Public Library, Whistler Museum and Archives and, now, Millennium Place.

"The municipality has worked hard to try and bring the community and resort together in order to go forward," said Gill.

Gill also mentioned Whistler’s history of thorough and careful planning and design guidelines, along with strict bylaws to enforce adherence to the codes.

"It’s critical for a successful tourist town to have its buildings conform with one another," she said.

Whistler Village, which was planned in the 1970s and then developed in the ’80s, was most strongly influenced by American Eldon Beck, the same planner who designed the original Vail village.

According to Gill, Beck was a student of Christopher Alexander, another American planner and author of the influential book A Pattern Language , who followed an environmental feng shui while designing towns and resorts – viewscapes, curving streets, town squares, well-designed buildings and covered walkways.

"But there’s a perception of paternalism here and Whistler is still considered to be a one-company town," she said, referring to Intrawest’s control of Whistler’s major employer, the ski resort.

Gurstein called Whistler an "extended company town" where workers are pushed further and further away.

"All this is, is a resort," she said. "It’s not a town."

SFU’s Gill related Intrawest’s perceived control of Whistler to a one-company mining town she has studied.

Tumbler Ridge is a planned coal-mining town of 3,700, complete with a $10-million community facility, located in the foothills of B.C.’s Rocky Mountains northeast of Prince George. The town was developed in the early 1980s by the B.C. government to house employees who worked in two nearby mines.

"The town was planned from Day 1 and it has similar demographics, the town is full of young, transient workers," Gill said.

But Tumbler Ridge, like all one-industry towns, is susceptible to the boom-bust cycles of the natural-resource economy.

One of the mines closed down last year and there was a fire sale on nearly 1,000 homes as residents moved elsewhere. Houses could be bought for $33,000; condos for $12,000.