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What is our ideal population size?

Posted on 5 September 2011

Kits beach on a Thursday


Last week,  I was down in Vancouver and Squamish. Vancouver while my partner worked, and Squamish for a wedding.

In Vancouver, I had the day to myself in Kitsilano. It was a sunny day, so at one point I went to the beach. It was nice and close by, but it was also covered with people.

In Squamish, the same thing. We had some time and were told about a great lake. It was fun– you could dive off rocks and into the lake. But once again, it was covered with people. So much so that when we tried going out a second time, we had to park on the highway and hike our way in because there was no room in the parking lot.

This weekend, we’ve been going out around Prince George. On Saturday, we went out to a well-marked, well-mapped lake about twenty minutes away. It was one of the nicest Saturdays we’ve had all summer. No one else was there. You could hear the occasional piece of traffic, but other than that we were completely alone (aside from a couple of loons).

Circle Lake near Prince George on a Saturday

Yesterday, we decided to go see Hixon Falls. There were a few people at the main falls when we arrived, but they left soon. Further down, in the chutes, there was no one around.

I don’t mind people. I get a charge out of having them around me in the city. And I like the lakes and ocean around Vancouver and Squamish very much. I think it’s great there’s so many people who want to get outdoors, and that’s there’s so many places they have access to. I would never begrudge anyone access to the wilderness.

But I find it far more relaxing to explore lakes and woods when there aren’t dozens or hundreds of other people around me. Even better is when there isn’t an extremely busy highway just a few metres away. I think a lot of people up here feel the same way.

That’s one of my favourite things about living where I do. A short drive, and you can completely escape everyone. Few people, fewer traffic. You can just enjoy the silence and the experience of being alone.

That’s why I sometimes question the mantra of growth. I don’t want to stop people from living up here. But I don’t necessarily think it’s always a bad thing to pursue population stability rather than population expansion. If Prince George were to grow to the point that all these lakes and rivers around town became as busy as the ones around Vancouver and Squamish, I feel like the quality of life will have been negatively impacted. Maybe not in a tangible, measurable way, but in a real one nonetheless.

I know the economic arguments in favour of growth. But I rarely hear anyone take them to their logical conclusion. If population always expands, eventually you run out of room. Maybe not anywhere in the near future, but eventually. I don’t think mega-metropolises are ideal places for humans to live. But you rarely hear that conversation. Just the one about how to get more people to live here or there. Or in some cases, how to encourage more people to have more babies.

And that’s fine. Maybe we need growth in the short term, and even in the medium term. We’re in a relatively sparsely populated part of  a relatively sparsely populated country. But I’d feel more comfortable if there was some conversation about what our target population is. What do we need to enjoy a comfortable level of living, have various services provided, and avoid a crushing mass of people everywhere? How do we hit our target and then plateau?

This is a topic I plan on researching in the coming months. But today is a sunny day off in a part of the world where we are lucky enough to be surrounded by getaways and the means to get to them. I’m headed out.

Filed under: ideas, Prince George

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