Nelson is in a quiet, unravelling crisis. It is easy to miss because the rest of the world has such troubles that ours can seem too tiny to see. Our crisis is the same as in other places: social, economic, political.
The perennial abyss between the rich and poor of the earth is yawning wider, and a newer feature is the disappearance of a middle that would bridge that. Nelson is becoming gentrified — that is, the richer 10 per cent of Canadians are buying properties here — and at the same time, the impoverished and homeless are growing in number.
Richer citizens means housing cost rises while the wage structure cannot sustain the poor in such circumstances.
Even mighty cities like Vancouver have this social problem.
Why the wealthy want to live here is pretty self-evident. Our quality of life is enviable. Money is the passport to living where you desire for self and family. Nelson is a wonderful community in which to raise children, and raise your consciousness among like-minded progressive affluent citizens.
Why the poor come is a more mysterious, as winters are inhospitable (more so than in Victoria) and employment prospects near-zero; zero is the vacancy rate. Why come here? Nelson’s reputation as a welcoming place to live, a place with better social services than other towns its size, and a tribe of street-culture-collaborators among whom poor homeless folk will not feel outcast.
Although I have been assured by councillor Valerie Warmington, the research data says we do not have a disproportionate number of poor and mentally-unhealthy on our streets, I doubt that. She also told me that our Gini Co-efficient, a statistic measuring inequality, is less favourable than the national average.
“If you build it, they will come.” This useful phrase explains how our community, that is precocious for services to the underprivileged, cannot keep abreast of demand.
Build a healthy infrastructure for the disadvantaged, and word will travel cross-country of the relatively better situation here. Supply is unlikely to meet demand; capitalism’s failure to share wealth, its systemic effect of impoverishing an underclass, is catching up with Western societies.
One fact is relentless: the underclass is growing.
I am a member of that vanishing middle between rich and poor. Those like me in Nelson feel the situation growing uncomfortable; I have this conversation with my peers.
No one is celebrating the changes I’m describing here. The word “progress” is not typically applied. History has brought human society on earth to a perilous passage.
What comes after the collapse/darkness/resurrection of our unsustainable planetary civilization is anybody’s guess. For optimism and sensitivity on that topic, I recommend reading Charles Eisenstein. Pessimism is the easy option.
Charles Jeanes, Nelson
P.S. To Greg N.: We all will miss your historically-informed hand at the Star’s editorial helm.