My concern, and the reason I wrote the book, was that the town in which I lived was under invasion from the outside. It was becoming apparent that if locals didn’t wake up to what was happening, we would, without our consent or even our knowledge, end up sacrificing long-established local values, places and cherished local sense of place, to faceless outside interests. While some locals, especially in the rapidly swelling local real estate and development sectors, welcomed and encouraged outside investment in an ever-expanding market for weekend retreats and second homes, the people who established the unique community character of the town were starting to realize that, if not somehow moderated, the sheer scale and pace of change could lead to alienation of many who, though not opposed to change, did not welcome what they saw their town becoming. Many were already finding the place so changed from what they wanted their town to be that they no longer had any reason or incentive to stay. The deeper I looked, however, the more troubling my findings. Locals were literally being dispossessed of qualities of place they didn’t realize they had and valued until outside speculators quietly and sometimes secretly robbed them of them by commodifying them and promising them, for a price, to too many outside others.
While some locals, especially in the rapidly swelling local real estate and development sectors, welcomed and encouraged outside investment in an ever-expanding market for weekend retreats and second homes, the people who established the unique community character of the town were starting to realize that, if not somehow moderated, the sheer scale and pace of change could lead to alienation of many who, though not opposed to change, did not welcome what they saw their town becoming.
There were two very polar responses to the book. As anticipated, people in the real estate business and their partners in the development sector hated the book. What surprised me was not that there was also a great deal of local support for the book—I knew that I had found words to describe a growing anxiety long-time locals, especially, felt about the post-Olympics future of the town—but that readers in many other mountain and resort towns, not just in Canada and the United States but in places in Europe and Australia, wrote to say they were under siege by precisely the same outside speculative forces. It soon became clear that a trend was emerging globally. The last best places are being carefully targeted by the world’s wealthy elite, and their agents, as super-prime destinations where they can park and grow their wealth. Owned vacancy is now so widespread and the resulting market volatility it creates so disruptive and erosive that it is destabilizing many of the communities they have targeted.
I realize now that there were some things I got wrong in The Weekender Effect. The first big thing I got wrong is that I completely underestimated the contribution that many weekenders and retirees would make to the positive development and evolution of the town. Many of these people brought exceptional skills and a broad range of often very specialized experience and competence with them, which they have generously offered to the community.
As anticipated, people in the real estate business and their partners in the development sector hated the book.
What I also missed was the potential emergence of whole neighbourhoods of these people who are now reaffirming community values on their own unique terms on the streets in which they live. What I did not anticipate was just how deeply persistent sense of place would remain in many of the people who have resisted being overwhelmed by change in this town and this valley. Another thing I got wrong is that I underestimated the power of this landscape to continue to inspire a new generation of local artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers.
But there are some things in The Weekender Effect that, judging from what has happened in the 14 years since I wrote it, I did not get wrong. Too many people have come here too quickly for the community to naturally absorb. Many of the people who live here have little reason to live here, at least in terms of deep and meaningful connection to the place itself. The pandemic and the ease with which many can now work remotely have added to these pressures. Many among this influx may have some feeling for the mountains as backdrop, but they have little connection to the vast region in which they live, and only a fledgling sense of mountain place. For many, the prestige of having a second or third home in a tony mountain town is the only reason for being here. For a good many others, it is merely a good, solid speculative investment. That there are so many here who are only here to commodify and then mine the landscape and the value of place is exactly what we didn’t want. This continues to have unforeseen consequences.
For many, the prestige of having a second or third home in a tony mountain town is the only reason for being here. For a good many others, it is merely a good, solid speculative investment. That there are so many here who are only here to commodify and then mine the landscape and the value of place is exactly what we didn’t want. This continues to have unforeseen consequences.
Since I wrote The Weekender Effect, the gap between those who have a great deal and those who have far, far less has grown exponentially. In addition, there is a lot less place to have a sense of, and fewer and fewer locals have the abundant time they once had to pursue a deep, personal sense in a mountain landscape that weekenders and outside others appear to be turning into a gymnasium for mechanized sports. It can no longer be denied that by commodifying place and dramatically increasing the wealth disparity among its citizenry, we are indeed diminishing where we live. By pushing the ecological limits of where we live, developing every possible empty space and eliminating affordable housing that could be occupied by locals who genuinely want to live here for authentic reasons related to their own identity but cannot afford even one house here, we are robbing ourselves of true community. And we are not done yet. At full build-out to the extent outside developers have proposed, there will be precious little Montane habitat left and less and less room for wildlife, or for people. Given these circumstances, there are not only bound to be—there should be and already are—tensions. And yet we remain largely oblivious here to how lucky we are. Most of the rest of the world would give anything to have what we are giving up—what we are, in effect, squandering.
Most of the rest of the world would give anything to have what we are giving up—what we are, in effect, squandering.
Is there hope? Of course. But hope is not something someone gives to us. It is something we have to earn. In the more than a decade since I wrote this book, my argument has not changed. We should not be satisfied to simply accept what we get or what outside others would thrust upon us. What was worthwhile to the founding generations of locals in the mountain West may not exist much longer unless we take care in teaching newcomers and subsequent generations the historical lessons that took us centuries to learn. Principal among those lessons is that in this landscape our identity can never be completely defined by development. Our true wealth does not reside in what we have built, but in what we have saved; and what we have saved may now save us. Is it too late? No, at least not here, not yet. But, as I say in the sequel to this book, we need to hurry. The last best West remains under siege. We are witnessing a great bonfire of heritage we didn’t know we had. Things are being lost that have not yet been found. We need to find them before they, and we, are lost.
Our true wealth does not reside in what we have built, but in what we have saved; and what we have saved may now save us.
Appears with permission of the publisher from the book The Weekender Effect II: Fallout, by Robert William Sandford, published by Rocky Mountain Books in 2023. Available wherever books are sold.
A pandemic-inspired sequel to the original The Weekender Effect, looking at the current and future challenges facing mountain communities. The pandemic, and the rapid introduction of technologies in its wake that enabled many to work from home, have put spectacular pressure on mountain and other resort communities that were already under siege by outside and foreign speculators and increasingly overwhelmed by owners of second and even third homes. Unmanageable development pressures and the explosion in property values fuelled by low interest rates and high incomes are undermining the very character of many communities and, by making where they live unaffordable, driving out the very locals who over decades established the charm, character, and sense of place and of belonging that now make their communities so attractive to weekenders and visitors alike.
Swelling populations, out-of-control tourism, and associated recreational and other pressures are also pressing hard against ecological limits in these places just when, in the absence of effective global climate action, the threatening effects and dangerous impacts of climate change appear to have arrived 20 to 30 years earlier than projected.
Fortunately, in the midst of this perfect storm of change there remains much that communities can do to maintain their identity. Major breakthroughs in science continue to unravel our society’s mechanistic world view and point the way to reconciliation with one another and restoration of hope for the future. The sequel to an earlier book on the same concerns, The Weekender Effect II: Fallout is a passionate plea for considered development in these precious communities and for the necessary protection and restoration of landscapes and positive transformation of local values, identity, and sense of place, here and everywhere.
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