I said goodbye to city life and hello to island living almost 15 years ago when I moved to a small island with a permanent population of 4,300 people, dozens of wild turkeys, a healthy deer population, mischievous racoons and a few errant peacocks.
This is a small community surrounded by water. We know we need to depend on each other in times of trouble, such as when our power lines are down or the ferry isn’t running.
Many of us treat our ferry commute or grocery shopping trips as a time to catch up with our neighbours. This is a dramatic change from my days of city living where commuters made an art out of avoiding eye contact.
Although there are some millionaires among us, most residents rely more on their creativity than their bank accounts. We celebrate our rural lifestyle, a love of nature, all of the arts, community and our resourcefulness.
What I’ve learned from island living might be useful for you, too.
It’s common for people to choose a west coast lifestyle and then figure out how to make it financially viable. Many newcomers seek a way to balance personal needs with family and work. It involves a search for a meaningful career that’s flexible enough to integrate into our lifestyle preferences.
People move here for the quality of life. My husband and I felt at home the first time we drove off the ferry. We were attracted to the vibrant arts community.
We lack many of the amenities of city life. There are no sports stadiums, corporate headquarters or ‘big box’ stores, and franchise outlets are discouraged.
Emphasis is placed on locally-owned businesses. “Shop local” is more than a slogan. This is most evident during the warmer weather when our local Farmers’ Market is abuzz with activity. We appreciate hand-made products, local produce and home-grown talent.
Although we do have local shops, a popular gathering place is our recycling depot. Residents flock here on weekends to check out their neighbours’ discards to reuse or reinvent a use for them.
Many residents value living simply and both the tiny home movement and off-the-grid living are growing in interest.
We are all creative. However, many of us don’t get a chance to explore this side of ourselves until midlife. Island living provides an opportunity to validate our identity as a creative person.
Our neighbors won’t ridicule us if we share our dream of being a poet or a painter. In fact, there is both encouragement and a variety of workshops to refine our skills. Plus, our local scenery inspires creativity.
Creativity and problem-solving go hand in hand. Residents love to engage in problem-solving and are often called on to use it. We welcome new ideas and diverse opinions – even when we disagree.
We have banded together on various island projects. When we decided our community needed a few major projects, we fundraised and contributed our time and skills to build a Health Care Centre, new Fire Hall and a community-owned 26-acre plot of land called The Commons – focused on agriculture, sustainability, and a social gathering place.
We realize it’s more efficient to do something ourselves, rather than wait for government to do it for us.
It seems a contradiction. We’re a group of independent thinkers who do things our own way and also join together to support each other.
Artists here find encouragement for their work. Most local homes have island artwork in them. Local theatre productions, book talks and music performances are well-attended.
Sheila Norgate, a local painter and performance artist, says, “The island is chock-a-block full of creatives, many of whom have made a conscious choice to live more simply and in tune with not only the natural world but their own creative muses.”
The arts grow our local economy and are key to our cultural and social fabric. They define the flavour of the island. According to a recent census, one in seven local residents is self-employed, and we rank sixth in Canada in terms of the number of professional artists.
Much of the employment growth in North America is due to solopreneurs and small businesses – although it’s brand name companies that seem to grab most of the headlines.
Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class declared that “creative people are the driving force in regional economic growth.”
Developing your creativity will be increasingly important for the future of work – as technology replaces repetitive skills that can be done by machines or robots. Creative people will continue to create meaningful new forms of work.
My community celebrates our rural lifestyle, a love of nature, all of the arts, community living and our own resourcefulness.
What is your chosen lifestyle? Do you prefer city life or rural living? Do you have a community to support your creativity? Please share in the comments below.