Slow Landscapes and Small Towns
Dr. Katherine Dunster
Dunster & Associates Environmental Consultants Ltd.
P.O. Box 109
Bowen Island, B.C. V0N 1G0
Email: email@example.com Tel: 604-947-0016
Do all small towns eventually grow up to become big towns? Will big towns and cities keep growing
until they swallow small towns? Should they? There are compelling reasons to save small towns (and
other small rural places), and with them the surrounding agricultural landscape. One of those reasons
is the Slow Food Movement, an organization that has given great hope to farmers teetering for many
years on the edge of economic survival.1 Slow Food brings with it hope for saving small towns through
creative value-added connections to agriculture – farmer’s markets, fall fairs, cafés and restaurants,
agri-tourism, and a myriad of other events and activities that can help keep a place on the map.
However, Slow Food cannot exist without Slow Landscapes.
Rapid population growth in many regions of British Columbia has caused the loss of many sensitive
ecosystems, resulted in the conversion of agricultural land to urban uses, and degraded the quality of
rural lifestyles. While “Smart Growth” may work in urban settings, it is less useful to besieged rural
communities, islands, and small towns and villages. Protecting slow landscapes is one way to counter
the rush to convert and develop land to urban uses by slowing down the pace of change in very
creative ways. This paper looks at the landscape surrounding small towns and provides some tools
required to “safeproof” a small town by retaining rural character and local distinctiveness.
I first proposed that Slow Food cannot exist without Slow Landscapes at the International Federation
of Landscape Architects World Congress in Calgary in 2003, and expanded on the idea using the
islands in the Salish Sea to test the landscape typology and meaning of slow islands in 2004.2 The
Slow Islands Movement was then hatched by a group of like-minded concerned Gulf Islanders
following my presentation of a paper titled “Cultural Survival and the Slow Islands Movement” at the
Islands 2004 Conference on Denman Island in August 2004. Since then, I have continued to refine
the notion while giving presentations on many of the islands and participating in an on-going virtual
conversation with islanders. There seem to be many similarities between small islands and small
towns. In this paper, I borrow extensively from the previous papers to place the concepts of slow food
and slow landscapes within the context of saving small towns.
If we agree that small towns are different and distinct entities from big towns and cities, that they
should remain different and distinct, and are worth saving, then Slow Landscapes may be one of the
tools used to save small towns. Simply put, if land within the cultural landscape is allowed to evolve in
slow motion there is a much greater chance that the land base needed to grow food will be
appreciated and protected indefinitely. When the agricultural land base is protected, other phenomena
related to landscape, society, and development will slow down as well. The result should be a
landscape impervious to the temptations of fast-paced changes that threaten long-term ecological
health, landscape sustainability, and quality of life.
Though most Canadians now reside in urban areas, they are dependent on the well-being of the rural
environment for many resources. The Centre for Research and Information on Canada reports that
urban dwellers believe that the government should financially support farmers and that small town
residents unable to cope with declining local economies should not have to move to cities.3 At the
same time, Statistics Canada reports that the continuing expansion of cities is depleting dependable
(Class 1, 2 and 3) agricultural lands at such an alarming rate that by 2001 half of the urbanized land in
Canada was located on the best farmland.4 We are becoming increasingly dependent on Classes 4
through 7 agricultural lands for future food production. This paradox is partially the result of history;
most cities started out as small towns servicing surrounding farms that were established on the very
best agricultural lands in the country. In 1900, farming was the dominant industry; farmers and
farmland were important. Globally, in 1900 only 14% of humans lived in cities but by the end of 1999,
some 47% of the world’s population were urban dwellers.5
The rural paradox is also the result of the cumulative ineptitude and inability of decision-makers to
prevent the spread of urban growth into dependable farmland and nearby small towns, despite many
warning signs that this behaviour is perilous to humanity. To date, despite the Agricultural Land
Reserve, there has been little political will to slow, stop, or re-direct population growth onto non-
agricultural lands. Jump-dispersal, the ecological tactic by which species advance to new territory is
one way to describe the creation of new suburban areas within agricultural areas. Territorial
expansion, in the form of consuming more land for dwelling units that are increasing in size while
declining in number of inhabitants is also cited as a reason for the rapid loss of agricultural land
through urbanization.6 The extent to which this has happened in British Columbia is startling. By 2001,
84.7% of the population was living in cities, large towns, and suburbs.7 The remaining 15.3% are rural
dwellers, living in small towns, villages, and unincorporated rural areas.
In the 21st Century, Canadian rural dwellers are becoming such an increasingly rare form of humanity
that they could be called “Homo ruralis” to distinguish them from “Homo urbanis”, the urban-dwellers.
Because urban areas cannot produce enough food to support and sustain their populations, H.
urbanis depends upon H. ruralis for survival. While H. ruralis needs H. urbanis to exchange food for
money and other goods and services, the dependency is less strong and could be broken if H. ruralis
decides to revert to subsistence living in order to survive predicted global and regional environmental
catastrophes. As stark and far-fetched as this analogy may seem to some, the recently published
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provides scientific evidence to the contrary.8
Peak oil and the collapse of the oil-based economy are upon us.9 The implications of a post-carbon
planet include loss of access to common foods grown thousands of kilometres away and loss of the
automobile as a means of commuting to work. If the populations in growing cities are to survive
beyond the collapse, productive farmland in nearby rural areas must be protected in order to meet the
predicted demand for locally produced food. Without the means of transportation to urban work
places, and without the land base to grow enough food, it is predicted that the suburbs would be
abandoned as people retreat back to cities. H. urbanis must recognize how critical this relationship
really is and act quickly to protect the rural habitat essential for H. ruralis. The questions that need to
be asked and answered are, “Should any more satellite suburbs be built in rural areas? And, should
small towns be allowed to expand into precious surrounding agricultural lands?”
While some small town planners and administrators may argue that continued growth is needed for
the economic health of the community, they are in fact living out a specious urban myth. The myth
states that without raising more taxes by building more subdivisions, resulting in more houses and
taxpayers, the small town (or island) will not be able to pay for increasing demands for services and
infrastructure. Economic studies have shown many times over that most new residential
developments create greater needs for community services and infrastructure such as fire protection,
police, schools, school bus services, roads, water supply, and other public works than can be raised
from the tax revenues generated from these new houses.10 Other costs include threats to historic and
rural character, water quality, open space, and wildlife. In other words, the real costs to the community
to service these new developments come at a great cost to the existing community, who ultimately
and unknowingly subsidize the new development.
Saving small towns is closely connected to slowing down the pace of development. Local agricultural
and resource-based economies have played a large part in defining the small towns and rural
communities that we have come to know, love, and celebrate in British Columbia. However, the speed
of landscape change is transforming places at a pace that renders landscapes nearly unrecognizable.
Many planning studies have proven that traditional small-acreage subdivisions are one of the greatest
threats to rural community integrity. Catalogue or cookie cutter subdivision designs are consuming
land and homogenizing the landscape to the point where every town looks the same (Anywhere,
Canada). Anywhere places quickly lose their identity, and any charming qualities used to attract
valuable tourism dollars are degraded or lost.
Why ever would anyone want to leave their suburban house and travel many kilometres to visit a
small town with identical suburban subdivisions, parking lots and retail or commercial franchise
businesses? And why would any small town or rural community want to drop their distinct historical
and cultural roots and rush towards anonymity? While rapid change disconnects people from place
and landscape, slow paced change allows people to identify what parts of the landscape should be
protected and what parts of the landscape must be protected to preserve ecological integrity and
cultural continuity. And, cultural continuity is the keystone of both slow food and slow landscapes.
Since its formation in Italy in 1986, the Slow Food Movement has advanced its mission to promote
food diversity and to prevent the extinction of domestic plants, fruits, vegetables and animals. For
example in order to prevent the extinction of four varieties of American Turkey, Slow Food USA
ordered 4,000 eggs from hatcheries and contracted an organic poultry farmer to raise, slaughter, and
deliver the turkeys to a “virtual” market created by the Slow Food membership. By creating the
demand, the supply is preserved.
For example, In B.C. seed savers, farmers, millers, bakers, and bread lovers are working to save Red
Fife Wheat. Red Fife is a wheat variety first grown in Canada by David Fife of Peterborough, Ontario
in 1842. From the 1870s, Red Fife became popular on the Canadian Prairies and is one of the
parents used by Canadian plant breeders to create Stanley (1895), Preston (1895), Marquis (1910),
and Ruby (1920).11 In 1894, the consensus of opinion amongst farmers on the islands in the Salish
Sea was that Red Fife wheat was the best suited for the region and gave the best yields.12 With the
development of more rust-resistant and higher yield varieties, Red Fife fell out of extensive
commercial production in the 1930s and is in danger of extinction. The creation of a Slow Food “Ark of
Taste” is addressing both the critical need to find the land, growers, millers, bakers, and consumers
necessary to save the seed from extinction, and perpetuating the remarkable living (agri)-cultural
history of Red Fife as well.
Earlier in 2005, another endangered slow food was announced in B.C. Herring spawn (roe) on kelp is
a wild-harvested food that naturally occurs when herring spawn their eggs on eelgrass, kelp, and tree
branches. Traditionally an important first nations seasonal food delicacy, this food has become
endangered due to the collapse of the west coast herring population. A revived herring spawn on kelp
harvest uses gentle capture and release methods to remove the roe but allow the return of the adults
to restock wild populations.13 Declaring this an endangered slow food has raised awareness of how
close we are to losing this traditional food; creating a place for herring spawn on kelp on the menus of
slow food restaurants such as Sooke Harbour House has helped make the connection that eating is
both an act of agriculture and of conservation.
The Slow Food Movement has given much hope to small-scale rural farmers involved, sometimes
desperately, in the preservation of local breeds of fruit, vegetables, livestock, and value-added foods
such as cheese. Can “Slow Food” exist without “Slow Landscapes”? What is a slow landscape? How
can we allow land within the cultural landscape to evolve in slow motion, so that the land base needed
to grow slow food will be appreciated and protected indefinitely?
Like Fast Food, Fast Landscapes promote fast-paced lives. Highways with fast lanes, short cuts,
expressways, rush hours, and rapid transit are all ways in which people are encouraged to move
more quickly through the landscapes of their lives. For the most part, Fast Landscapes are linked to
the urbs and suburbs and to theories that support the belief that increased productivity is good for the
economy. More begets more. Needs are replaced by wants. And the more a landscape is “hardened”,
the more people become removed from the cycles and seasons that set a slow measured pace and
provide the base for growing whole food. The antithesis of a fast landscape is simply a slow one.
Slow landscapes can be divided into two general types: slow natural landscapes and slow cultural
landscapes. Slow natural landscapes are those landscapes that evolve slowly over time. They require
long periods of time to form soils, establish vegetation, and mature without human intervention. Slow
natural landscapes occur at many different landscape scales: glaciated areas, old growth forests,
bogs, sand dune complexes, and vegetated cracks in coastal bluff bedrock being a few regional
examples. Slow cultural landscapes, the general subject of this paper, are those landscapes that
evolve slowly and harmoniously with human needs related to the land. Slow cultural landscapes
typically include rural farmland or other culturally modified working landscapes, small rural villages
and towns, archaeological sites, and places where important cultural events happened.
Both types of slow landscapes are paced by the rhythms and cycles of nature. Both types thrive in
diversity, seasonal changes and local distinctiveness. Both types are diminished when diversity is lost
and are degraded when forced to change rapidly to a bland, homogeneous, anywhere landscape that
literally is found anywhere on the planet where humans have become obsessed with the desire to
speed up life in general, and food production in particular.
Slow cultural landscapes are:
Places where the noise of the infernal internal combustion engine is not the ambient background
sound of the landscape.
Slow cultural landscapes are:
Places so diversely interesting that you are enticed to walk somewhere, and places where you can
walk nearly anywhere.
Slow landscapes are where you can hear:
the bleating of newborn lambs;
the dawn chorus, the cock crowing;
frogs and toads calling at night;
the rustle of leaves;
the buzz of insects on a hot day;
the dripping of rain onto the ground;
gale winds howling;
murmuring breezes and fiddleheads unfolding.
Slow is quiet. But where are the quiet places?
Slow is where night is night, and not an orange glow on the horizon. Slow is where you can see the
Milky Way, shooting stars flashing across the sky, and Jupiter rising with the Moon. Where are the
dark night places?
Slow is where you can see, and hear, the Aurora Borealis.
Slow is a still summer afternoon. So still, that you can hear your slowly beating heart.
Slow landscapes are places where changes are so subtle and gradual that you think nothing has ever
changed. Where are the slow cultural landscapes? Are there any slow landscapes left?
Slow Small Towns
Slow small towns recognize that their biological and landscape diversity is an essential ecological
asset that has existed for millennia. Slow small towns understand that even though they are “islands”
surrounded by open space, they are inextricably linked to other natural systems on this planet. Slow
small towns are mindful that they have a community responsibility to preserve, protect, and maintain
the ecosystems they inhabit and depend upon for community health.
Slow small towns are learning that there is a limit to “development” and that the local supply of fresh
water (and sometimes food) is the critical environmental factor for establishing population growth
Slow small towns understand that their unique cultures are the result of a close relationship with both
the land, and in the case of coastal communities, with their surrounding waters.
Slow small towns recognize that agriculture is the foundation of the cultural landscape. Because of
global changes in agricultural practices, farmland is particularly vulnerable to irreversible land use
changes. Slow small towns realize that demands for conversion of farmland to residential or other
types of urban development will endanger the cultural landscape. And slow small towns are very
aware that farmland conversion will lead to:
fragmentation of the cultural landscape,
local landscape extirpations, and
local landscape extinction events.
Slow small towns are vigilant to the external and internal forces that threaten their survival and have
the courage to reject unnecessary change. Slow small towns have learned to say no to externally
imposed changes that may lead their island landscapes into extinction events.
In Slow Small Towns:
Going more slowly is an unspoken fact of life.
The speed limit is less than 50 kph, and the roads are shared with bicycles, horses, pedestrians, deer,
a few wandering chickens, and migrating amphibians.
There are no traffic lights and roads are unlit with street lights.
The roads have potholes. Paving and widening roads to make traffic go faster is not a community
priority. When new roads are built, they are narrower than the old ones.
The need to protect the most viable land for agriculture and understand the vital role of agriculture in
the continuance of the cultural landscape is implicitly understood.
The agricultural or forested landscape is a working and slowly evolving landscape and not “just” a
passive and pastoral backdrop for tourism and scenic viewing.
Policies are created to stimulate wise management of agricultural land, support organic farming
methods, and forbid the use of artificial and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Small Towns and Cultural Survival
In the not so distant past it was relatively easy to distinguish the rural way of life in small towns from
that in cities and suburbs. People visited, volunteered, had potlucks, and went to lots of meetings
where community issues were discussed and local solutions were found. Making a living often meant
holding down a few other jobs in order to financially support artistic or other endeavours. If you
wanted social recreation, you took time and made time to organize something with your friends and
neighbours: theatrical events, festivals, choirs, concerts, and games of all sorts. This rural way of
doing things and of making do is part of the fabric of small town cultures, and this fabric is now
beginning to fray around the edges.
Many new arrivals from fast urban places choose to live in small towns because it is “cheap”, and not
because of the lifestyle or because they are part of something called ”community”. Rather than give to
the community, they expect the community to deliver no end of things to them. Over the past ten
years this has led to pressure and demands on some small town communities to “pick up the pace”
and “get with the times”. Typically this means committing vast amounts of time and money to building
urban and suburban amenities such as indoor swimming pools, instead of using the natural amenities
available. Instead of sharing the road by travelling at slower speeds, faster and inconsiderate
vehicular traffic has led to demands for separate horse and bicycle pathways. Others advocate for
devoting tax dollars to large sports, arts, and cultural centres instead of looking at using the under-
utilized but already existing de-centralized alternatives built by community groups in past decades.
The pressure to pay for these new services has far-reaching implications for the integrity of the small
town. Advocates insist that the only way to pay is to increase the tax base and add a new subdivision
While it may be simpler to have a referendum to approve the allocation of tax dollars for new
amenities, the fundamental question that must be sorted out is what the small town really needs (e.g.
clean drinking water for everyone), as opposed to what (some) people really want but can do without.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is how much more of this spending can go on without
driving taxes to levels that only high-income earners can afford. Are we comfortable with the notion
that many low, sporadic, and seasonal income earners will not be able to pay the increase in taxes
and will be forced to leave, thus depleting the town of the very cultural diversity it depends upon for
economic success, ultimately changing the unique character of the community? While many small
towns have capitalized on their unique community characteristics to draw tourism dollars, are they
prepared for the day when tourists realise there is nothing different between a small town surrounded
by subdivisions and strip malls, and the suburban subdivisions in the Lower Mainland or Okanagan
Some Small Town Issues
As I have described above, there are many internal issues challenging small towns. There are also
external factors that small towns need to be mindful of if they wish to preserve their integrity and
remain small towns:
1. Global population growth – people have to live somewhere. Should (must) small towns be
torn apart to accommodate this growth?
2. Technological advances making it easier for people to live anywhere but remain connected to
their workplace by email, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing.
3. Affluence or increased personal wealth that allows city people to choose where they want to
live; commuting is no longer an issue. This leads to gentrification of villages and small towns,
and loss of working farms when they are purchased for leisure use.
4. Property speculation that creates manufactured needs to attract gullible city-dwellers to their
own piece of rural paradise.
5. A city dweller’s vision of “rural” is not the same as a rural dweller.
6. Expectations that there will always be public investment and higher-level government support
in new infrastructure to attract new growth.
7. Despite the Agricultural Land Reserve, general lack of community understanding about
farming, the need for economic support, and how fringe growth into the ALR places
pressures on the sustainability of small family farms.
8. As small as a town is, it is still connected to global economic forces that can change very
rapidly, exposing the small town to financial collapse. B.C. is littered with ghost towns that
reflect this reality.
Coping with these factors can be difficult if a small town lacks the tools or creates internal obstacles
that interfere with sensible planning solutions. Seven obstacles or deficiencies are noted below:
1. Lack of small town jurisdiction over surrounding rural areas (e.g. Regional District Electoral
Areas) where land use decisions are often made by higher levels of government.
2. Lack of understanding that while Electoral Areas are not small towns, they are distinct places
that fulfil important environmental, economic, and cultural functions and are not simply people
and land waiting to be consumed by towns and cities.
3. Spread of new suburban development from larger towns and cities towards small towns.
4. Newcomer’s expectations and social adjustment conflicts (desire to change everything)
5. Lack of community vision and understanding of previous local history.
6. Use of outdated or inappropriate planning and zoning tools.
7. The tendency to borrow urban standards in the absence of rural vision.
Slow Landscape Solutions to Handling Small Town Growth or Change
Before any decisions are made to allow new growth or change, there are some fundamental steps
that need to be taken within the community to safeproof a small town from the things they fear. This is
not about power, turf protection, or ego stroking; politicians and bureaucrats cannot be allowed to
usurp the safeproofing process. Involvement of the entire community (also known as “stakeholders”),
from the very young to the very old is absolutely necessary at every step in the process.
The first step is to identify all short and long term fears and issues that might threaten the small town.
There are many different approaches to this outreach process including Participatory Rural Appraisal,
and Open Space Technology.14 Community visioning, asset mapping and community mapping
(making maps) are also proven and highly successful techniques for involving the entire community in
identifying what is important to them, and most importantly putting the information onto maps they
make themselves.15 By making maps together a collective community inventory is created, memories
are preserved, and precious knowledge about the community, it’s environment, and cultural history is
passed from generation to generation. Making (many) copies of the maps helps safeproof the small
town against knowledge loss. All of this information must be woven into the policies in official
There are probably as many creative solutions to safeproofing a small town as there are community
members. Perhaps continued growth is not an issue, in which case techniques for encouraging
appropriate growth, as defined in the OCP, should be devised. Without allowing growth into rural
areas, small towns can allow higher densities in designated infill areas, allow multi-family dwelling and
provide important sewer and water services. If expansion outside traditional town boundaries is
acceptable, then development patterns consistent and compatible with existing building styles and
densities should be mandated. There should be no net loss of farmland, so new growth should be
directed to non-productive areas. If farmland loss from the ALR is likely, then twice the amount of new
agricultural lands should be added to the ALR. Standards should not be copied from elsewhere but
should be created to make local sense. Traditionally, setbacks were not regulated and this led to a
delightful organic pattern of different staggered setbacks along a road. If the community is interested
in pocket market agriculture, it makes more sense to allow zero frontage setbacks in order to increase
the amount of useful land behind houses for growing food. Zero setbacks are common in Europe, and
it is probably one of the reasons why small European towns can tolerate high numbers of tourists with
reaching socially unacceptable limits; gardens tucked away far from the busy street become refuges
for the locals.
Protecting Rural Areas and Slow Landscapes
While the ALR has been quite effective at protecting the agricultural land base in British Columbia, it
does not protect farms and farmers from aggressive urban growth or economic downturns. There
seems to be a pervasive attitude that it is inevitable that farmland adjacent to towns and cities will
become suburbs; and it is often abandoned in anticipation of re-zoning to other more economically
lucrative uses. Towns and cities need food, and one way to keep this land in productivity is for local
governments to support the creation of farmland trusts that would buy land from farmers, and allow
them to continue to farm with a life estate. Eventually, the land would be loaned or leased to a new
farmer who might never have the financial means to buy farmland.
The transfer of development rights (TDR) can protect farmland by shifting development density to
areas more suitable for growth. TDR does not reduce or eliminate growth but restrictive covenants
should be placed on the donor farmland to protect it in perpetuity from further attempts to subdivide or
Local governments in B.C. must work with the Agricultural Land Commission and provincial
government to establish a fund that would be used to purchase agricultural conservation covenants,
essentially buying any potential development rights. By paying the farmer the difference between the
value of the land for agriculture and the best use, typically residential, the pressure to remove land
from the ALR would be eliminated. The farmer also benefits from receiving money for selling the
development rights that can be used to help the farming operation. After selling a covenant, the
landowner retains all other rights of ownership including the right to farm, sell, or transfer the land to
others. By removing the development potential, the future market value is also reduced, which can
help in capital gains transfers to the next generation. This is one way of helping the next generation to
keep the land and farm it.
The slow landscape approach uses a number of tools in combination to protect rural character from
incompatible development. A few examples are:
• Zoning all rural lands at a very low density by requiring large (160-acres for example) minimum
• Restricting frontage access along rural roads to discourage strip residential subdivision or
commercial development along the edges of farmland.
• Restricting and enforcing land uses, allowing only land uses compatible with or related to
farming and forestry (or other natural resource use) in rural areas.
• Requiring new development to be clustered to protect open space and reduce lot sizes and
setbacks to maximise area of impact of new development.
• Strictly controlling growth by restricting the number of new dwellings that can be built annually.
• Protecting existing landscape patterns with buffers, performance standards, design guidelines,
large setbacks, and covenants.
• Undertaking research to identify all important rural landscape elements such as wildlife habitat,
visual resources, hedgerows, heritage roads, century farms, historic buildings and
archaeological sites, sensitive ecosystems, water resources, and shorelines. Create OCP
schedules and registers that officially list and designate the sites and make no exceptions that
would allow their loss from the community.
• Encouraging voluntary land protection options. Create a municipal fund to help register
• Recognizing the value of local farmers and food producers by providing dedicated
indoor/outdoor space for a community farmer’s market, and offering farmer’s free space in the
market to sell their produce and food. Buying locally is a fundamental principle of
• Supporting all community initiatives to protect agricultural lands and farming such as
community shared agriculture (CSA), cooperatives, educational programmes, celebrations,
slow food feasts and festivals, and agri-tourism.
• Proactively educating newcomers that things are different in small towns, before they make
the decision to move to the small town.
• Providing tax incentives to landowners to protect cultural heritage property with conservation
covenants; buildings and landscapes.
• Recognizing that every acre of un-built rural landscape that can be kept that way will pay for
itself in ecosystem services. Keeping rural lands forever rural means that rural communities
and small towns will continue to enjoy the benefits of rural living for generations to come.
• Advocating the use of Slow Decision Making: demanding that any decisions about the
landscape must be made to protect the long- term survival of the landscape. When in doubt,
doing nothing, absolutely nothing, and letting change happen slowly is the best option.
• Integrating slow landscape conservation objectives into all community planning policies in
order to prevent sudden and irreversible damage to biological and landscape diversity,
including the rural agricultural landscape.
• Integrating slow landscape conservation into transportation policies and road infrastructure
development that prevents or mitigates any negative impacts of transportation and
infrastructure works on landscapes and ecosystems.
• Incorporating the Precautionary Principle into Official Community Plans.16 Precaution places
the burden of proof on the proponents of any development, who must prove with adequate
baseline information and impact assessments that a project is safe (ecological, economical
and social (including health) and will not have direct, indirect or cumulative impacts on
adjacent properties, larger landscape, and community at large.
• Implementing and enforcing the Precautionary Principle by taking action to introduce
appropriate procedures that will avoid or minimize potentially adverse impact of activities on
biological and landscape diversity.
• Re-thinking the whole notion of “development” in and around small towns. Building Permits
and Development Permits represents the urban status quo, mundane and destructive
approach to placing human uses on the land. If the process of building and development was
reversed such that a “Conservation Permit” was issued requiring all development to fit within a
conservation plan for the site, there may be some hope of saving the slow landscapes around
small towns. This may require legislative changes.
• Negotiating with regional districts to create larger no-build buffer areas around small towns in
order to maintain distinctiveness from larger growing communities. The buffer areas are often
electoral areas that need to be recognized and protected for the ecological services they
provide to small towns (including food and cultural amenities). Collaboration with electoral
areas is essential to ensure that they too can survive economically without growth.
• Small towns wishing to protect their rural roots and cultural landscapes should not be forced to
receive new growth as outlined in regional growth strategies. How much new growth a small
town can handle should be based on capacity (environmental, economic, and social)
determined by the community and not by modellers or demographers.
• Supporting all community efforts to recognise, study, and celebrate its cultural features and
• Instilling and enforcing policies in Official Community Plans that would require any
convenience or “fast food” or “big box” business to provide worker accommodation on the
• Immediately capping population growth and stopping further subdivision and/or development if
the community has reached its capacity in terms of water supply.
• Slowing development until all creeks and groundwater recharge areas have been properly
mapped and protected from existing and anticipated pollution. Completing studies to
determine what the long-term groundwater supply will be, accounting for climate change
scenarios and the growing potential for catastrophic fires.
• Developing and promoting the implementation of a policy requiring that all new development
must promote ecosystem and habitat conservation and prove there will be “No Net Loss” to
natural ecosystems. No net loss will be achieved through outright rejection of projects, or,
relocation or redesign of the project if accompanied by an ecologically and culturally
appropriate mitigation and compensation proposal. Ways may need to be found to sort out the
social and environmental problems that may have occurred with previous new developments
before instilling slow landscape policies.
In this paper I have explained the evolving concepts of Slow Landscapes and how it fits into the
planning and community activism strategies to safeproof and save small towns from pressures to
urbanize and grow larger. Small towns do not have to grow up to become big towns, and big towns
and cities should not keep growing until they swallow small towns. While rural dwellers are an
increasing minority in Canada, they provide essential resources and services for urban dwellers.
Since urban dwellers generally recognize this, rural dwellers need be vocal in keeping urban dwellers
informed about the issues and problems they face.
The Slow Food Movement and Slow Islands Movement have begun to prove that the key to saving
rural places is to have a healthy local agricultural economy.17
FACT 1: You cannot have small town markets with local produce unless you have
working farms in the countryside surrounding towns.
FACT 2: Slow food is good for small towns and helps preserve and protect surrounding
rural character, the natural environment, local living economies, and distinctive community
Slow food and slow landscapes give a rural community a unique identity, creating local distinctiveness
that can result in economic benefits. Remembering that slow food cannot exist without slow
landscapes provides the link to larger community visions of saving small towns and rural communities
from becoming “Anywhere Towns”. I have suggested that it is critical to develop a suite of slow
landscape planning tools that make sense for each community, rather than adopting outright “Smart
Growth” tools or inappropriate urban standards that lead eventually to Anywhere Towns. Finally,
saving small towns and rural communities is too important to leave to the whims of politicians and
bureaucrats. Every member of the community, from the youngest child to the wisest elder, is an
expert in some aspect of the social, environmental, and economic structures, functions and processes
of their community; all should be involved in the decisions being made about their community’s future
See the Slow Food website, www.slowfood.com
The Slow Landscapes typology and Slow Islands Movement was proposed and developed by the author in
2003 and 2004. Three papers provide the original context: Dunster, K. 2003. “Landscapes and Localization:
Lessons from the Left Edge of North America.” Sandalack, B. (Ed.), Proceedings, 40th International
Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress, Calgary, Alberta, May 25-29, 2003; Dunster, K.
(2004). “Slow Landscapes and the Slow Islands Movement”. Paper presented at Canadian Society of
Landscape Architects Annual Meeting and Congress, St. John’s, Newfoundland June 16-20, 2004; and Dunster,
K. (2005, forthcoming), “Cultural Survival and the Slow Islands Movement”. Paper presented at Islands of British
Columbia 2004: An Interdisciplinary Exploration, Denman Island, B.C. August 20-22, 2004.
Parkin, A. 2001. “Does Urban Canada Care?” Opinion Canada. Vol. 3, No. 41 (November 29, 2001).
Hofmann, Nancy, Giuseppe Filoso and Mike Schofield. 2005. “The Loss of Dependable Agricultural Land in
Canada.” Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin, Vol. 6, No. 1 (January 2005) Statistics Canada
Catalogue No. 21-006-XIE.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Press Release POP/918.
“World Population to Increase by 2.6 Billion Over Next 45 Years with all Growth Occurring in Less Developed
Regions, 24 February 2005”.
Hofmann, Nancy. 2001. “Urban Consumption of Agricultural Land.” Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis
Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 2 (September 2001). Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 21-006-XIE.
See Statistics Canada. Census 2001. More specific data is located in Statistics Canada. 2001 Census of
Agriculture Agriculture-Population Linkage Data. Statistics Canada Catalogue No, 95F0303XIE.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment team has produced a number of technical reports regarding the status
of the Earth’s ecosystems. See Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: The Biodiversity Synthesis Report
(Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2005). See also, www.millenniumassessment.org
Two books by Robert Heinberg are very readable treatments of peak oil and its impacts on the planet. Both
books are published by New Society Publishers on Gabriola Island. A new edition of The Party’s Over (2003) is
due in 2005. Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World, was published in 2004.
The American Farmland Trust has undertaken extensive research and published the definitive study on the
true costs to the community for different land uses. See, Cost of Community Services: Making the Case for
Conservation. (Northampton, MA: American Farmland Trust, 2002). The Friends of the San Juan’s contracted
with the American Farmland Trust to produce a study of San Juan County in Washington State, published as
The Cost of Community Services, May 2004. (see www.sanjuans.org)
Symko, S. 1999. “From a single seed: Tracing the Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the
Ukraine”. A Web Publication of the Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
British Columbia. 4th Report of the Department of Agriculture of the Province of British Columbia for the
year 1894. Victoria: Queen’s Printer.
“Herring Spawn on Kelp”, reported by Sinclair Philip and Mara Jennigan, 7 March 2005, see
www.slowfood.com and www.bcspawnonkelp.com
For a description of some of these techniques and additional resources, see K. Dunster 2005. “Acting Locally:
Mapping and Counter-mapping Towards a Grassroots Feminist Cartography”. Chapter 12 in Melody Hessing,
Rebecca Raglon, and Catriona Sandilands (eds.) This Elusive Land: Women and the Canadian
Environment. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005). For information about facilitating meetings and conversations
using open space technology, see www.chriscorrigan.com.
For information about community mapping techniques see S. Harrington et al. Giving the Land a Voice:
Mapping Our Home Places (Salt Spring: LTABC, 1999) available from the Land Trust Alliance of BC at
The Precautionary Principle states that in the face of scientific uncertainty about the environmental, social and
economic effects of a project, the most appropriate solution is to reject the project in order to prevent currently
unknown but unacceptable impacts to the environment and human health.
The Slow Islands Movement was formed as a grassroots political and cultural initiative on the islands in the
Salish Sea in the winter of 2004.