Second Growth: Community Economic Development in Rural British Columbia
November 4, 2013
Review By Tracy Summerville
Recently the CBC program Ideas aired “Canadian Clearances,” a documentary about the impacts of globalization in rural Canada.1 What has come to epitomize the political activism of rural and remote communities is the depth of the grassroots, “get-it-done,” mentality of community members. In one case, the documentary described the efforts of two women trying to stop a large hog farm from being built in their community. A public meeting, a petition, a party line of phone conversations created enough of a stir that a big, foreign-owned company was scared away. From an outsider’s point of view this may seem quaint, a kind of “around the kitchen table” activism in which the network of participants are brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbours. But this kind of activism is not at all quaint; rather, it represents a unique and important quality that small communities across Canada have in their favour when faced with the effects of a turbulent global economy: they have an incredible ability to mobilize. Convincing governments that community cohesiveness is more than just a charming aspect of rural communities, that it is, in fact, a powerful asset in a global economy, might be the key to ensuring the survival of many small towns outside of the large metropolises. I think that this is the objective of Second Growth: Community Economic Development in Rural British Columbia.
The book sets out to make community economic development (CED) a serious option for resource-dependent communities in transition. While CED might appear to some as simply an array of community projects, the authors contend that, when understood within a theoretical and conceptual framework, CED is a serious policy process that will help shape the future of resource-dependent communities. The authors explain that, in a changing global economy, when resource-dependent communities (they use forest-dependent communities as their case studies) are still in an essentially staples economy (i.e., with little diversity, dependent upon the vagaries of foreign markets, and hit by traditional boom and bust cycles), they are more vulnerable than ever before. The power of CED is that it can draw upon the assets of the community to shape a diversified economy.
Second Growth is important for a number of reasons. First, the overall object of legitimizing ced is critical. Those who live in resource-dependent communities want a voice in determining their future. Policy and politics have shifted to focus on the needs of the urban centres, and there is little historical memory left for the social contract between urban dwellers and the hewers of wood and the drawers of water. Resource-dependent communities are on their own when it comes to developing strategies that will help them engage in the global economy. Second, the book is a kind of “how-to” for CED. It draws upon the cases of four communities, illustrating the process and difficulties encountered by participants. Despite the images of blissful, stress-free, neighbourly rural life, there are deep conflicts among community members. And since CED programs seek to determine community assets, it is sometimes a strain to find a shared vision. The forest is one person’s livelihood and another person’s playground. British Columbia is a great place to examine these conflicts as there are deep ideological divisions between the right and the left, between extraction of resources and preservation of resources, between those desiring growth and those wishing to end it. Moreover, there are deep divisions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples over land use and treaty negotiations. Third, it demonstrates the utility of university community-based research. And, in fact, Second Growth makes a case for how such research should be conducted.
If there is any critique to be made, it is that the book suffers a little from its objective. Those of us already convinced that CED is important may find parts a bit repetitive – for example, when the authors remind us that CED must be understood within a larger conceptual framework. This is a small price to pay, however, if Second Growth can shift some thinking and create opportunities for more local autonomy. Finally, this book could be used in any graduate seminar, in just about any area of the social sciences. The “how-tos” of research are beautifully laid out, and the reader gets to follow a clear path from the conception of the project (literature review, theory, methodology) to its completion (data collection and analysis). There are also some first-hand accounts of participant experiences, and these serve to provide perspectives other than those of the four authors. Second Growth is an excellent book, and I recommend it highly.
 The documentary was inspired by Roger Epp and Dave Whitson’s Writing Off the Rural West: Globalization, and the Transformation of Rural Communities (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001).