Nelson Commons and ‘a sense of noblesse oblige’

With the opening of the Nelson Commons show suite at Vernon and Hall, this letter is a propos

With the opening of the Nelson Commons show suite at Vernon and Hall, this letter is a propos. There I had an interesting chat with Russell Precious, a key member of the Kootenay Co-op and visionary for its condo-development project on the corner diagonally from the Commons. I had emailed Russell a few weeks back, with questions about the growth economy.

We agreed on a key point: the world’s banking system and its system of debt-money, and the issues of unemployment and poverty, seem to have no clear solutions. I asked him his views on “the gentrification of Nelson.” He did not react against that word, I was pleased to see. The relatively wealthy people coming to live in Nelson made their fortune somewhere else and choose to live here for the quality of Nelson life. If I understood him correctly, whether this is good or not for Nelson in a social and economic sense depends on each individual who arrives here with their wealth and becomes a citizen.

What is the character of their values, and what do they mean to do as members of our community? I offered the example of a couple, the Leathermans, who seem to embody an ethic of community enhancement.

For me, this is a startling century to live in, when the steady erosion of the middle class of Canadians, leaving a very small elite at the peak and a vast mass of struggling working people at the social base, leads me to wonder: how will the mass accept this future? As an historian, I know well that great social inequity can generate revolutionary energies.

I offered my opinion to Russell, that if “Nelson’s gentry have a sense of noblesse oblige” (the nobility’s obligation to ensure the less-fortunate are not desperate) then Nelson’s mass of working folk may not be enraged by the inequities of wealth. Russell spoke about the future expansion of “a Commons” — public space shared by all in such a way that the gentry are not isolated and self-absorbed. Inequality of wealth underpinned by a base of decent quality of life might, I suppose, steer Nelson around the abyss of class warfare. Our natural habitat works in favour of peaceful politics.

At bottom I do not know how much Russell’s vision and mine are in harmony or in friction. I hold to my perspective on the planet’s human and physical problems: there is not one issue, social or political or environmental, that is resolved by adding more individuals to burden the natural world with human appropriation, exploitation and wastes.

More is loss. Growth is not the answer in the 21st century. “Developers” can all go away. Economists have to learn to subtract. Prime Minister Harper, Premier Clark — have you and your ilk had any new economic thoughts since 1980?

Charles Jeanes