The Search for Paradise: Amenity Migration and the Growing Pains of Western Canadian Mountain Towns presented at the 2008 New Zealand Political Science Association Conference in Auckland, New Zealand, August 28-29, 2008
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For many years, large Canadian urban centres have grappled with the issue of affordable housing. But in the last decade, this issue has become an acute problem for many small communities in the mountain ranges of Western Canada. “Amenity migration,” or the movement of people for recreational as opposed to economic purposes is putting tremendous upward pressure on housing prices and rental costs. Historically, the well-being of these communities depended on resource extraction activities, and when commodity prices declined, communities were left economically depressed. Recently however, these towns have become magnets for those who are drawn to them from neighbouring cities and from abroad by their natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities. Both the province of Alberta and parts of British Columbia are currently experiencing extreme labour shortages, and in mountain communities there has been a huge influx of workers on temporary visas (most notably from New Zealand, Australia, and the UK) into the burgeoning tourism industry. While local economies have been revitalized, soaring housing costs have caused acute problems for both seasonal workers and long time residents with modest incomes. Mountain communities are attempting to devise strategies to ensure both affordable housing and ecological sustainability. These vary with respect to understanding the phenomenon and planning appropriately for it. Moreover, coming up with a comprehensive plan for sustainable local development can be difficult in the face of conflicting values of local residents, temporary workers, and the amenity migrants. This paper will compare the policy responses of a number of mountain communities for dealing with the problems that amenity migration raises. As globalization decreases the isolation of communities worldwide, the lessons learned from these Canadian mountain towns can provide important lessons for previously remote locales in other parts of the world that are blessed with natural beauty and which have been, or soon will be “discovered” by a mobile, affluent global elite seeking to purchase a bit of paradise to which they can either relocate, or recreate.