September 11, 2020

Urbanist in the Okanagan 3 – Saviour of the Small Towns

Let’s begin in Osoyoos, the southern-most town of the Okanagan:

The shot above was taken on August 27, 2020.

Here’s the equivalent from the lookout on Anarchist Mountain in 1977:

Beautiful BC magazine via BC Archives

Compare urban development in the two shots.  Notice how almost nothing has changed except some development on the middle right along the lakefront, a large white complex in the lower centre and what is probably an industrial strip in the upper left.

In a world where values rise when land is flat, easily serviced, near major roads and close to an urban core, how can this be?  Especially in the Okanagan, where the liaison between real-estate interests and local politicians has been, shall we say, often intimate.

The answer is the yellow line in the map below:

Water Science Series, BC Government

The line, almost block by block, is the boundary of the Agricultural Land Reserve, originally established in the early 1970s.  (To considerable opposition by many who owned the land within it.)

In an economy based on tourism and retirement, it’s extraordinary that there is anything green between the white municipal boundary and the yellow ALR.  Today, that economy of wine and fruit and tourism based on the appeal of a natural landscape was made possible by the vision of the NDP government in 1972 to establish the ALR (which paid for it in the loss of 1975) and the reluctance of successive Social Credit and Liberal governments to pay the political price to undo it.  (Not that there haven’t been nibbles of alienation – like golf courses as illustrated in the above report – but there hasn’t been huge bites of removal.)

Osoyoos may be a particularly graphic example of the juxtaposition of urban and agicultural, where vineyards come with a kilometre of the city centre.  But the same is true for much of the Okanagan (and arguably even Vancouver, hello Southlands), with one particularly egregious counter-example.  We’ll get there soon.


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  1. In an economy based on tourism and retirement,
    Of course up until the time of the ALR that was not really the case. The Okanagan did have a summer influx of tourists, but it was still predominantly an agricultural economy.
    Sadly apples and cherries and vegetables were too old-fashioned, and didn’t offer big short-term profits, so many of those operations were lost to strip – malls and big-box stores.
    It speaks volumes about the Dave Barratt NDP that so many of their initiatives survive to this day. And to the lack of courage on the part of free-marketeer Liberal governments that never quite managed to pull the plug on the ALR or ICBC.
    It’s almost as if they secretly understand that both bring great benefits to the people who live here, and that selling them off would mean death by the ballot-box.

  2. The tourism potential now for Osoyoos and all Southern Okanagan towns remains in linking each other with wine / fruit tree service roads where cycle tourism can succeed. Admittedly all made possible by the ALR. I hope southern Okanagan towns can see the potential for city visitors to come and bike along the lakes from guesthouse to guesthouse or winery to winery. The continued existence of cattle guards suggests they have yet to figure it out. I would also expect that the very entrepreneurial Osoyoos Band will recognize this first and start leading the way.