Editor’s NOTE: Taken from the special print issue of the Squamish Reporter charting the town’s future, this article by Auli Parviainen presents her vision on Ecology.
Sitting on top of the Chief in 2035 with eyes wondering over Howe Sound and the Squamish River valley below, not much appears to have changed in the last 20 years at first glance. Perhaps the seeming lack of change in itself is telling: the Oceanfront largely empty albeit more colourful with the addition of temporary commercial buildings interwoven with shrubs and greens, the surrounding forests mostly intact with a slightly bulging residential belt reaching out and Howe Sound still devoid of industry smokestacks. Yet, the population is nearly doubled at 34,000, and one must wonder where they all live, work and play.
Many residents still vividly remember the great battle over the Official Community Plan Review in 2015-16, which, after considerable controversy, placed the environment at the heart of a new and compelling vision and action plan for Squamish. Mandating the creation of green wildlife corridors, stringent protection measures for the estuary, shifting new forms of residential development to higher ground, preserving industrial landbase along the waterfront and committing to the creation of more self-reliant neighbourhood centres, the new OCP fundamentally altered the direction of Squamish.
Howe Sound and the Chief have emerged as the beacons of hope having been designated as world heritage sites in 2020 and made possible by the powerful collaboration of Sea to Sky and South Coast communities. While some low impact industrial and shipping activities are still present, the Sound draws scientists worldwide to research methods for marine life recovery.
The renown Woodfibre Marine Research and Testing Centre has propelled a vibrant marine related industry with hundreds of employment opportunities. Recently, the increase in recreational boating traffic has caused calls for stricter standards and controls for private vessels to mitigate damaging noise and pollution impacts.
While ocean acidification caused by ongoing climate change has eradicated some marine life in the Sound the preservation efforts have given some reason to believe that salmon stocks, for instance, may return. Marine mammals remain a cause for concern.
The rising ocean levels are creeping further into the estuary and the Oceanfront. Left largely undeveloped the Oceanfront has become a destination for tourists and locals alike with a windsports centre in the park like setting and an eclectic collection of temporary and moveable buildings featuring cafes and bars, marine and other industry.
After foregoing the unrealistic plan in 2015 Squamish answered the climate change challenge by the creation of this off-the-grid demonstration project. With no infrastructure additions, the area features composting toilets, grey water collection and treatment facilities, re-vegetation showcases and more, all powered by alternative energy – tidal, solar and wind. This year Squamish will reach its mandated 90% renewable energy use goal.
Wildlife and biodiversity inventory conducted in 2015-16 propelled the creation of wildlife corridors and greenbelts for unimpeded access from the mountains to the river valleys and ocean. The new green overpasses and improved existing ones maintain human recreational activities on the periphery while allowing undisturbed wildlife movements and expanded habitat.
The populations of iconic wildlife such as bears, cougars and bald eagles have bounced back and the estuary now draws bird watchers far and wide given the unusually extensive variety of birds. While most of BC’s salmon stocks have declined beyond repair some bright spots like Squamish exists, where regional efforts have allowed salmon stocks to hold to some extent.
Much to the shock of many the OCP Review shifted residential development to higher ground. Squamish has, however, avoided further sprawl by encouraging and incentivizing a vast variety of denser housing forms and infill. Many of the existing single-family neighbourhoods now feature carriage homes, cottages and duplexes while new denser residential was added to Upper Highlands, Upper and East Mamquam and North Squamish east of the highway.
New building bylaws mandate grey water reuse, water conservation, energy efficiency and net zero goal by 2035 and have mostly caused upgrades into the existing infrastructure. The neighbourhoods are built to be more self-sufficient to limit the need for travel, albeit Downtown Squamish still attracts residents for special events and beach access. By minimizing new infrastructure building Squamish has been able to reallocate these resources towards natural hazard mitigation and is thus able to provide some protection to old development on the floodplain.
An effective transit service to north and south finally emerged in 2021, which has resulted in air quality improvements after years of concerns. Emissions have also been reduced by small scale neighbourhood energy utilities powered by biofuels, tidal and geothermal energy. Squamish now attracts clean, innovative and diverse industries with good employment options although many residents still commute to the city.
Known for its home-based businesses and remote workers, the community still struggles to attract businesses offering high employment ratio to land mass, a problem shared by other Canadian communities endeavouring to adjust to a new economy.
Photo: JOANNA SCWARZ