Global trust loss is a local issue (and you get out what you put in)

Yesterday’s post about the Edeleman Trust Barometer and what’s happening around the world attracted my attention because I’d already been wondering about trust, after reading the results of Whistler’s Community Life Survey, a month ago.

As the Pique reported, back in early January,

the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) unveiled the results of its 2022 Community Life Survey, and they show a community that has, through it all, maintained a strong sense of belonging and a high level of satisfaction with the place they call home (for the most part.)

Based off of phone interviews with 508 respondents completed over several weeks this summer, 90 per cent of permanent residents reported either a “very strong” or “somewhat strong” sense of belonging in Whistler, up from 84 per cent in 2021. It was also seven-per-cent higher than the average between four benchmark communities the RMOW surveyed: Squamish, Revelstoke, North Vancouver and West Vancouver.

The survey monitors people’s sense of belonging and community satisfaction. It asked respondents how trustworthy their neighbours are, how they feel about tourists and their feelings about green space. It asked them about their happiness with access to recreational services, transit and medical services. It seems incredibly comprehensive. I looked up the website, and learned that this Community Life Survey has been issued by the Resort Municipality of Whistler for 15 years, and is designed to:

  • Support transparency and accountability in municipal operations
  • Inform decision-making
  • Facilitate the measurement of trends over time

It should help the local government know what to prioritize, but the top of the goals is to “determine the overall satisfaction with quality of life in Whistler.”

And for some reason, this question and the news report, sent me into a rage.

(Full disclosure: I’m 47 and 3/4. I haven’t had my hormones checked, but this rage could be a sign of perimenopause. Who knows.)

I tried to interrogate the rage, once I’d calmed down, and I think the best language I could put to it is:

how can you measure the health of a community if you only ask people if they’re getting it good enough, and you don’t ask them what they’re doing to contribute?

Hello! Community is not an entitlement. It’s not an amenity you get when you buy a nice house. It’s not a consumable item or a luxury item that you can guarantee for yourself if you spend enough.

It’s a living thing. It’s a network of relationships. It’s an ecological field of inputs and outputs, contributions, balances. It’s always in a state of flux and flow.

I mean, yes, it is a useful measure of your community’s base situation to know how many residences make it up, how many of those are inhabited year-round, how many are inhabited by tenants, or occasional holiday makers. It helps to know the basic demographics of the people who make up your community. But just living somewhere for a period of time doesn’t make you a community member. Does it? Doesn’t membership require some form of participation? Yeah, we all pay to play, in some form or fashion, but community flourishes on more than just a tax-base.

I’m not against asking people if they’re satisfied with where they’re living, especially if you’ve been voted in to serve them and are stewarding millions of dollars in property taxes to provide services, but I really think that question should be immediately coupled with a prompt to consider, how you contribute to that, and what kind of opportunities to contribute you would like to see. If not, it turns “citizens” into consumers and reinforces the idea that all you have to do to contribute is pay your tax and yell the loudest. That’s a really fast descent into a terribly shitty place to live, in my opinion. Everything that brings me joy and delight in this place I live has been the result of remarkable community effort – people coming together and dreaming and fundraising and growing things and working hard. None of it came about because a bunch of entitled folk yelled loudly for more, like drunk Vikings at a feasting hall.

I don’t know. What do you think?


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