As the new year begins, the Coulter Berry building in Fort Langley remains stalled.
As the excavation hole fills up with water and snow, itâ€™s not difficult to imagine the drifts of letters piling up on the desks at local newspapers, with plaintive cries of â€œLetâ€™s just get the darn thing built!â€
Given how long ago the former IGA burned down and how long the lot has since stood vacant, itâ€™s understandable that townspeopleâ€™s patience should begin to run thin.
However, just as the degree of interest generated by the project might be viewed by some as tiresome, when you consider its opposite â€“ apathy â€“ the animated debate could also be taken as a healthy sign of a whole-heartedly engaged community.
Debates of the kind that weâ€™re witnessing over Coulter Berry are only possible in communities in which its inhabitants view themselves as having a personal stake in their landscapes, their places of dwelling. Only when people have a sense of belonging to a place do they have a greater sense of personal responsibility for shaping its continual evolution.
A business owner and a resident each hold different modes of belonging to a place, but both modes are equally valid. And as weâ€™ve seen, not all business owners share the same perspective, nor all residents.
The point is to stand up for our personal values in the places to which we feel most connected. If we canâ€™t come alive and engage with the places where we eat, sleep, and breathe, then weâ€™re just another member of the sleeping, silent masses.
I find myself feeling cheered that a group of people who felt strongly about an aspect of the project organized itself and succeeded in stopping something that I suspect many people of Fort Langley (regardless of on which side they stood) believed was already a done deal.
And before all the vocal supporters of the Coulter Berry building raise a cry of protest, let me say to them: Iâ€™m cheered by you, too. Because, in the end, insofar as we all care about how our town evolves and are prepared to say so, weâ€™re on the same side.
Whatâ€™s important to me is that I live in a place in which other people are emotionally invested. A place where others are prepared to dig in and stand up for what they value while respecting other community membersâ€™ right to do the same.
Often, we may not agree. But itâ€™s those very differences that provoke deeper thought on what we want and why.
Indeed, the continued debate over the Coulter Berry building is an important act of place-making â€“ not just as a colourful story of a landmarkâ€™s unfolding to be added to the pages of Fort Langleyâ€™s history books, but as a critical act of belonging in the here and now, of becoming more deeply bonded to the specific places in which we live and work, of claiming our collective agency in the continual task of shaping a community worth caring about.
Abby Palmer, Fort Langley