Less room for a view

With Kelowna’s highly controversial tourism centre being fully approved and funded in 2017, our city has shackled its ontological security to the values of the Anthropocene Epoch. This newly proposed centre was enveloped in contentiousness at its very conception; although this nearly three million dollar project is scheduled to be built (and has already had preliminary construction) over top of a rezoned parking lot, there has been vociferous complaining from the citizens of Kelowna over the various changes it will bring to the landscape.

Amongst obvious topographical changes, our city’s divisive project raises concerns that breach our local level and rise to serve as examples of large scale issues: the perpetuation of urban sprawl, the mendacity of designating land as “park space”, the tacit ranking of industry over natural landscape, and the oblique commitment to anthropocentric tendencies are all examples of how this single event cannot be understood in a factual news snippet. The tourist centre is at the center of Kelowna’s public dissension. To understand the grander and more ideological implications, the centre’s motivations for construction on a local level must be understood.

This promised tourism centre is indicative of more than Kelowna’s interest in the tourism industry. Such construction is tantamount to Kelowna branding their parks as endangered spaces. Tourism Kelowna posited this proposed 3,000 square foot visitor centre to be constructed directly over the site of a city owned parking lot on Queensway and Mill Street. This site would be right by the waterfront.

The project of creating a tourist centre is not an original one, Kelowna already has a tourist centre on Harvey Avenue but this particular infrastructure has been labelled as “outdated” by Tourism Kelowna. Relocating such an establishment downtown right by the waterfront gains increased economic viability because it is assumed that it will attract more pedestrian traffic. The next and most obvious reason to relocate right by the water, is because it overlooks the picturesque lake scenery. This beautiful lake is the body of water that Kelowna
tourism ads present as ubiquitous to every line of sight in the entire Okanagan Valley. The sparkling waters of Okanagan Lake are not only of paramount importance to tourist brochure photographers however; the fundamental and repeated concern from the citizens of Kelowna about this soon to be built tourist centre revolve around the disruption of the lake view.

Tourism Kelowna’s goal of raising “enjoyment levels” is a rhetorical dud. The common complaint about the tourist centre is that it will disrupt the view of the lake that locals have come to know and love. Therefore, Tourism Kelowna’s argument of an increase in enjoyment levels is not only mathematically unsound and statistically immeasurable, but also entirely perspectively based. Though this one building may somehow seduce a travelling man or woman with its large glass windows and persuade them to have a “longer stay”, the building will still be staying longer than any one tourist. Hence, the enjoyment levels of locals should not be left out the discussion even in a tourism context.

Although the decision to construct this building is predominantly a relocating effort void with no sinister ulterior motive, its existence cannot be explained on solely topographical terms. Garnering a few extra tourist dollars is of primary importance, but is consequential in a sprawling multitude of ways. Despite its simple motivations, this specific act of construction is inextricably connected an anthropocentric drive. If one employs an environmentally conscious mindset when viewing this project, a myriad of problematic layers unfurl. The infrastructure itself is not an assortment of rebar and cement, rather an opaque blockage of our Okanagan Valley’s (arguably) most beautiful feature. Though the complaints of a lack of aquatic scenery appear superficial, depriving locals of one of their favourite natural viewpoints even to a small extent, is an egregious offence that hierarchically imposes the potential wealth of the city over the occupants of the city themselves.

The only factor more worrying than Kelowna’s decision to build on parkland, is that the parkland they will be building on has already been marred by a parking lot. Kelowna’s fetish for parking lots sparked discomfort when an environment and climate change Canada weather station was demolished to make room for a new parking lot. The irony stings.

The 2.8 million dollars allocated towards building a tourist centre should be spent on revitalizing or rezoning more parkland, spaces that a tourist centre should be proud to promote. The warped decision of mechanized construction is telling of Kelowna’s involvement of what scientists are calling the Anthropocene Epoch. The Anthropocene Epoch is a provocative neologism, inferring that humans are so impactful that we have created our own geological precedent. Controversy aside (the term inaccurately lumps oil moguls and subsistence farmers into a single group synonymous with  eomorphological change), its recognition of significant  geographic alteration can easily be seen in Tourism Kelowna’s building decision. At best, the choice to build over parkland is daft. At worst, it is exemplary of the perverse logic uses the natural world only for its instrumental value.

Okanagan Lake lives on, but its natural beauty has become a more difficult sight to see.

Toby Collis Handford

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