The Danger Inherent In Unbridled Boosterism

By March 27, 2015Hot Topic

By Mike Archer. If confronted with an 80/20 pie chart, most school children would recognize that the 80 part is bigger than the 20 part … No?

Then why do some media quote the smaller number as though it were somehow more significant? I get why advertisers do it and I get why marketing firms do it.

I don’t get why media organizations do it.

In what may be a classic example of the manner in which the old power structure of Abbotsford is still talking to itself in a flattering and congratulatory manner (rather than facing reality, and fixing it) the Abbotsford News published a story this week stating, “One in six Abbotsford-Mission residents are ‘Aging in Suburbia’.”

The fact that it was introduced as though it were good news made me wonder why. I’m not entirely sure that describing Abbotsford as a community where people are ‘Aging in Suburbia’ is the way to attract anyone to set up a business here, begin a career, start a family or do anything but retire and plan to die here.

Of course the more truthful and statistically relevant headline might have have been, ‘Five in six Abbotsford-Mission residents are not ‘Aging in Suburbia’’ since the fact is – fully 82 percent of the population does not fit into the rich, upscale category being championed as somehow representative.

The story states; “With good incomes, solid jobs and growing assets, “aging in suburbia” doesn’t sound so bad. That’s good, since that is the category ascribed to 18 per cent of Abbotsford-Mission households by a Canadian marketing company.”

The survey tool being referred to, launched by Environics Analytics, enables investors and real estate purchasers to learn more about every single neighbourhood (defined by postal code) in any given city across the country.

You can check out your postal code here.

In a concise and informative description of the tool, Joe Friesen, of the Globe and Mail, said Wednesday, “If you’ve ever wondered why certain companies bombard your home with flyers, or why businesses set up shop in some areas and not others, segmentation, as it’s known, may have played a role.”

The thing which struck me about the News’ coverage of the statistic is that, by several measures, I’m not sure that the single fact they pulled from the immensely complicated and fascinating statistics made available by the tool, is, in fact, good news … at least not for Abbotsford.

For example:

1) Old. Right off the bat … 82 percent of Abbotsford – Mission residents are not ‘Aging in Suburbia.’ If I have young family and am looking to move to vibrant community which caters to my young family’s needs, I’m not sure that the fact that the biggest contingent of people in Abbotsford- Mission are old and settled with children over the  age of 15 is ‘good news.’

2) Rich. The News quotes Environics as describing the people the News seems so happy to have as our largest demographic this way – “Luxury cars and boats can be found in the driveways of single-detached homes built between 1960 and 1990, while the residents ‘earn good incomes from long-tenured jobs in public administration, wholesale trade and construction.’”

OK … so what about the rest of us?

What is left out of the News’ discussion of all this ‘good news’ is any shred of a discussion about what this all actually means. It is almost as if the old newspaper, much like the Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Abbotsford, is simply keyed up to find anything which sounds the least bit positive about Abbotsford and publish it, promote it, and shout it from the roof tops, regardless of whether there is any statistical validity, economic insight, or actual meaning to the information being shouted about.

At times, the power structure in Abbotsford has even seemed to go out of its way to refute, disparaged or deny any information which deviates from the self-serving narrative that all is good and we are being led by wise, old and respectable people who have nothing but our best interests at heart.

The fact that almost everything in our recent history demonstrates the exact opposite seems of little interest to those who are peddling this rose-tinted take on reality.

Why don’t you plug your postal code into the machine and see how it describes you and your neighbourhood. It may be very flattering if you’re rich, retired or have a good government job. For the rest of us … I’m not sure.

If only 18 percent of Abbotsford residents are living the high life, as wealthy retirees with luxury cars, should we be happy … or concerned? Are we doing well … or are we failing? Is it good … is it bad?

How do we compare with, say Langley; which may have a higher percentage of young people with families. Or; Chilliwack; which may have a higher percentage of good private sector jobs.

Other cities may offer a higher percentage of left-handed pickpockets …

My point is this; relentless, unqualified, unbridled boosterism has played a large part in keeping Abbotsford from being able to have any sort of open, honest discussion about some of the things which are wrong with our community. Our new mayor and council were elected, in part, to begin to unravel fact from fiction and set us back on a road to prosperity and economic growth.

This, after years of bad administration and, in some cases, unqualified failure. Much of that failure was based on a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy and the unquestioning belief in the old, mostly male, mostly white, power structure which made all of our decisions for us for over a decade or more.

Those days are gone. Those within the old power structure who are still flagellating and proclaiming our ascendance by latching onto any positive references (to themselves) they can find, should stop.

Pointing out the flaws in our community leaders’ reasoning; errors in judgment; bad decisions, or, flat-out mistaken or even illegal behaviours, does not diminish our city. If anything it makes us stronger because we are becoming a community which will someday be able to confront our mistakes and become better for having faced them and fixed them.

It is time for us to move beyond the ‘small-town tourism kiosk’ approach to economic development and public policy and usher in an era of fact-based critical thinking which will help us build a world class city. It is a challenge of which we are most certainly capable if we can learn to be honest and stop fooling ourselves.

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