By David Tinker
If you haven't tried out Facebook on the Internet yet, I can vouch for it's general usefulness in spite of a few flaws (for example privacy concerns). One of its good features is the ability it provides to share ideas in interest groups, and it is one of these that stimulated this column. The group is "Revitalise Annapolis" founded and moderated by Susan Stopford, and anyone interested is welcome to join. The concerns they raise are important ones, so important that I intend to devote the next few columns to them. While the discussion focuses on Annapolis Royal, it could apply equally well to any community in southwest Nova Scotia, so it's worth serious consideration.
I want to ask four specific questions. First, why is Annapolis Royal such a special place, (and how did it get that way)? Second, why does it need to be revitalised? Third, what do we mean by "revitalise"? And fourth, what could be done to achieve this? I admit in advance I don't have many answers to the fourth, but that is what the Revitalise group is trying to find out. It's going to take a lot of thought, time, and effort.
Almost all the Facebook postings pay tribute to the fact that Annapolis is special. They cite the community spirit, the many volunteer activities, attractions like King's Theatre and the Gardens, the variety of businesses large and small, the feeling of safety and security, and the simple fact that everyone knows you when you walk down the street or go into a shop. Without exception, the Facebook posters say that they love to live there (this goes for newcomers and lifelong residents alike). They don't usually cite the great scenery, though that's a plus.
What you may not immediately recognize is that much of this is due to a geographical fact: everything you need, and everyone with whom you interact, is within walking distance of your home (or where you park if you come in from nearby). That spatial dimension defines a Village, and the village is the natural unit of social organization. Sociologists and geographers have recognized this for decades, and there are tons of good books on the subject. Even cities, when they work properly, are basically collections of villages, and urban planners like the late Jane Jacobs argued that if this feature is lost, the city decays. Take London, England, for example, a great city for more than seven centuries. One of the visible clues to its origins is the number of parish churches (no less than nine in the "square mile" alone), each one of which was once the centre of a distinct, village size urban neighbourhood.
Cities become increasingly dysfunctional and villages die when the things people need are taken out of walking distance and concentrated in malls that are an hour's drive from home. Yes they are "efficient", which means they generate more profit, but the loss of village-size neighbourhoods is destructive to cities, not least because the poorest people are left behind with none of the things they need. There are many examples of cities and towns that are failing for this reason. Annapolis Royal is a good place to live because it has preserved its human-scale character. We'll continue these thoughts in upcoming columns.
David Tinker is a retired university educator living in Granville Ferry. He writes a weekly column More About This Later for The Spectator.