EDITORIAL: Retaining youth

We are not just a community of older people - but how do we get the young people to stay?

It can be tiring to constantly hear about the demographics of Parksville Qualicum Beach, always with the word ‘oldest’ in the conversation.

Some believe this is an unsustainable trend. That theory suggests our communities cannot survive without an influx of young people, or retention of the ones we have.

Those who espouse that theory believe it won’t be long before local governments find themselves increasing taxes drastically to keep up with the maintenance of roads and other infrastructure. They believe new homes and businesses to support them — or at least younger families in existing homes who consume more, spend more — are vitally important to the future of our communities.

Others believe things are just fine the way they are, that pensioners spend enough to keep the communities healthy, that being a retirement community is actually a reasonable growth/sustainability strategy.

We got a healthy dose of reality last week when we visited a local high school. More than 200 children in grades 6-7 from this school district took over the gym at Ballenas Secondary School for a basketball tournament.

Seeing that many youngsters — just two grades worth — in one place gave us a jolt.

We attend a lot of events and meetings in this region every week. To say the crowds at these events are dominated by the 60-plus set is an understatement. It feeds, or perhaps confirms, the old demographic numbers.

However, it does not reflect the whole story. The schools and rink and ball fields suggest a different tome. There are young families here, a lot of them. They are busy, working and shuttling children to sports and clubs. They do not have time for, or interest in, an open house about a regional growth strategy amendment,

for example.

Perhaps there should be more study, more effort, put into asking the questions and finding solutions around retention, as opposed to attraction. Clearly, we have youngsters here. And yes, every smallish community sees their young people leave for university or work. But are we doing enough to give them viable options to stay, to work and raise their families here?

One can’t eat, or buy a house, with scenery and good weather. It takes money. It takes real jobs. We should track those 200 Grade 6-7 students to see where they are in 20 years and why it isn’t here.

— Editorial by John Harding

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