Murray River’s issues won’t be solved by slab fence
Murray River is a picturesque village with a very questionable future. It is at the epicenter of the demographic tsunami barrelling its way toward Prince Edward Island. Between 2006 and 2011 the village population dropped a staggering 22.3 per cent from 430 to 334. It marked the single largest drop in eastern PEI during which time the provincial population increased 3.2 per cent.
There are 191 private homes in Murray River, but residents occupy only 152.
The issues facing Murray River are immense and complicated. They require imaginative thinking, risk taking and effort from all residents, not just a few concerned citizens, or those who sit on council.
Instead of a focus on tomorrow Murray River is garnering headlines for something far less productive: ignorance and silliness.
Over the past 25 years the once vibrant Main Street has been in steady decline. The grocery store closed. A service station closed. The car dealership closed more than 20 years ago. The village is still home to a small, but enthusiastic business community. CIBC remains. There is a new service station/convenience store. The Old General Store and Magik Dragon cater to tourists.
But, these businesses and a dwindling population cannot continue to fund even basic services.
The ghosts of businesses past are now found in the derelict buildings that line Main Street. As part of a road expansion project, the provincial government tore down several of those buildings. Attached to the back of one sat the remains of Murray River’s historical train station. The station is a shadow of its former self, but a group of local residents, called Friends of the Station, is committed to bringing it back to its former glory and potentially act as a catalyst to economic growth in the community.
It’s worked elsewhere. History and culture are proven economic drivers and increasingly sought after by aging tourists. It’s worked in Montague, Cardigan and Elmira.
It might be part of the solution in Murray River.
For every project there are naysayers, those who oppose everything, but never provide solutions. Normally the most effective strategy is to ignore these nattering nabobs of negativity (to borrow a quote about the press from former US Vice-President Spiro Agnew) and press on.
It is more difficult in Murray River where opposition has grappled onto a significant hole in the argument put forward by pro-station supporters. The village owns the train station but the Friends and supporters claim there will be no cost to the village. It’s a hole you can drive a truck through. The only sure-fire way of ensuring no liability to the village is to transfer ownership to the Friends.
Because transfer has not occurred, opponents can hang their hat on a single point, while blissfully ignoring key reasons for development.
Where were opponents as empty buildings grew increasingly dilapidated, gradually becoming an eyesore? In Murray River there are apparently degrees of ugly.
What will opponents do to ensure the village has the fiscal resources necessary to provide services, especially as the community ages? What solutions do they suggest to the critical issues facing Murray River? With such a narrow-minded view of community, how in the hell will Murray River even begin to attract new residents, an absolute necessity for the community to remain viable?
Who will opponents sell their homes to if there is no business, no services and an ever-decreasing number of residents in the village? Even if they are lucky enough to sell, it will be for a fraction of the value.
To put the opposition in context, one resident is constructing a fence, made of slab timber, to block his view of the train station. It is intentionally ugly.
Pick an adjective: juvenile, silly, childish, stupid, counter-productive. They all apply.
Redevelopment of the train station in Murray River is an idea worthy of exploration. If opponents fear having to pay for it (even though there is plenty of justification why the village should be a partner), simply eliminate that argument. Then ignore the naysayers and move forward.
Slab fences do not build a community. They do not pay for street cleaning, or fire protection. They do not maintain parks. They do not create a welcoming atmosphere for anyone who might consider moving to the village.
And they certainly don’t inspire new thinking, leadership, or the action our times demand.
If the slab fence is allowed to win it just might be the last thing standing in Murray River.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org