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Vol 40  No 10
February 21, 2008


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Student View

By Jillian Terry

Soon to be a thing of the past? The serene views along the Skerwink Trail near Port Rexton, Trinity Bay. (Photo by Dave Sorensen)

For sale: elbow room

Look around. As you read this column, you are likely surrounded by a considerable amount of physical space. If you peer out the nearest window, it is highly improbable that you will see throngs of people, cars or homes packed tightly together. Whether or not Newfoundlanders and Labradorians care to admit it, our province is full of … well, nothing. With only a half million inhabitants and a land area of over 400,000 square kilometres, we have one of the lowest population densities in Canada.

In recent years, however, government and industries have initiated various policies and strategies to maximize profitability on this commodity which, in a 21st century world of increasing populations who are living longer due to technological advancements in food and medicine, is becoming more and more valuable. A current example which was directly connected to Memorial was the filming of Screamers 2, a science fiction thriller, in the utility tunnels around the Engineering building and in the old Dominion building on Elizabeth Ave.

The film, as well as many others that have been shot in this province, set up shop because of the inexpensive costs and easily-found shooting locations (including using an abandoned supermarket as a makeshift soundstage), in comparison to other North American cities. A further advantage for such productions to shift their search eastward when looking for filming facilities is the large pool of local talent residing in this province, including potential cast and crew members.

Evidently, there are many benefits to our province hosting come-from-away firms such as film productions that are looking for physical space at a low cost. Local businesses in many industries receive monetary windfall, from hotels and restaurants to construction and car rental establishments. Regardless, however, the question must be asked: what is the cost to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians of giving up (albeit temporarily) the vast empty spaces that we have come to know and love?

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the tourism industry as much as the next person. As a part-time employee in downtown retail, I am keenly aware of the necessity of visitors to this province and how important their yearly vacations are to the livelihoods of many local entrepreneurs. Yet, although I believe the intentions of the provincial government’s tourism strategies are good, I am skeptical of the building of massive vacation homes and the gentrification of outport communities in order to attract the dollars of tourists.

There could be numerous negative effects from this type of behaviour, from environmental concerns to the disruption of the lifestyles of rural residents in Newfoundland and Labrador. Even in St. John’s, a problem exists with the influx of summer visitors to the city. There are not enough hotel rooms to satisfy the growing demand, and downtown developers face a dilemma: continue to turn people away from staying in the capital city, or tear down historical downtown buildings in order to build a modern high-rise hotel.

The spreading of urban sprawl in many of Canada’s largest cities is certainly a sign of the times which would not be welcome in our province known for its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. Many of us take for granted the amount of space we are afforded here, from the apartments we live in to the traffic we drive in. Visitors to our province constantly comment on how refreshing it is to experience a world where line-ups are a rarity, and bumper-to-bumper traffic is most frequently seen on Regatta Day near Quidi Vidi Lake.

As government and industries continue to court film productions and tourists to our island, it is essential that their main focus is on the people and infrastructure that remain here after the end of the film shoot or summer festival, since without us, the Newfoundland culture loved the world over may become a thing of the past.


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