The feedback loop between cars and housing

MP: I’m thinking we can introduce the new editor at The Independent by having a conversation about homes of the future. What do you think, Drew?

DB: I think that’s a marvelous idea! It’s always good to go back to basics when rolling out something new, and it doesn’t get any more basic than the roof over your head.

MP: I guess to get this conversation rolling, I’ll admit to an obsession with home. I mean, I studied home for my PhD. Historic home, future home, Métis home, Newfoundland and Labrador home, all of it. But most of all for this conversation I’m interested in the Post-Oil Home. Most of our homes are addicted to oil or dysfunctional energy regimes in one way or another.

Jerry Dick, Executive Director of Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, talks about how people in the province used to create homes and communities that responded to local landscapes. He asks how we can    create homes and communities for a sustainable future.

DB: There are worse obsessions! But you’re right. When I think about these sorts of environmental questions, my mind always goes to the big picture stuff – the electricity grid, traffic infrastructure, urban design, yadda yadda – and my instinct to read issues of ‘the home’ as a symptom of these bigger processes. But I might have it backwards: how we house ourselves is in many ways the root from which all these other big physical questions of energy use, distribution, design, etc., all grow.

MP: Exactly — we don’t think about it but our homes shape everything. Actually I think two things influence the way we live in capitalism: work and home. I mean consider the criticism of car culture. We need cars, sometimes two cars per household, to get each person in the house to their workplace, wherever that is, and to get to the stores to buy what we need for our home and workplaces, to drop our kids off to the places they will spend time while we are at work. We’ve created an entire society based on the use of the car to get access to work while making home elsewhere. Of course we do that: we’ve been building homes and communities that require car trips to get what we need daily. So experts are saying that’s not sustainable. It’s not necessarily an alternative energy car we need: it’s a new way of living lighter on the land, deeper in our communities.

DB: Yeah. Our approach to development has been almost totally shaped by the feedback loop between cars and housing. We’ve been locked into it so long that it’s difficult to imagine anything else. Oil royalties and fish stocks will rise and fall, but the real economic bedrock here is heavy civil construction, road paving and auto sales. This has an ecological cost – one we may not be able to afford as the climate crisis deepens – but also a social cost as well. The way we live is atomizing. It makes ‘community’ difficult and sometimes impossible. We’ve built cities for cars and trucks and tract housing, but not necessarily for human beings.

MP: We could go on. But everybody’s waiting for the official announcement. I’m leaving for new adventures and that’s left a gap here at The Independent. So, I’m very happy to introduce Drew Brown as the incoming editor for The Independent.

DB: Thank you! This job is an honour that I still haven’t totally processed yet. But I start in January, so I’ve got time to get myself sorted.

I definitely never imagined I’d have this position. I have been blogging since highschool and wrote a scattered column for The Scope or The Overcast, but most of my adult life was spent in grad school for political science. I started writing semi-regularly for VICE Canada in 2015 while still in Edmonton chasing a PhD, and a little over a year later I came home to be a full-time writer. I’ve written mainly for VICE since then, but also freelanced for CBC, Atlantic Business Magazine, The Guardian, and The Deep. Moving from grad school to freelance journalism has felt a little bit like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire sometimes, but overall I know I’m much happier here than lost somewhere in the sessional mill. I like to think my powers are better put to use writing for the public instead of for a paywalled academic journal, at least.

MP: I approached you in October, remember? That was after you came to speak to my journalism class at the college. As I walked you through the maze of hallways to the door, I told you I’d been offered a fellowship elsewhere and that the editor position would come available and that you should think about it. And you did think about it, didn’t you?

DB: I did! I will admit that first I was pretty intimidated by the offer. The Independent is such a valuable local institution that has always punched above its weight. That’s a lot of social responsibility. Surely too big a job for a scrub such as myself!

But once I talked myself down from the imposter syndrome, I did think about it. My biggest non-financial frustration with freelancing was always the difficulty pitching local stories that were important but “too local” for national or international publications. I was actually in the midst of working on a book proposal about Newfoundland and Labrador and its relations with the rest of Canada (and itself), and it occurred to me that working at the Indy would allow me to do some of the things that I would otherwise only write about from a distance.

MP: There’s such passion for local news here. I couldn’t cover half as much as I wanted in my time here. It’s a tough time for all news media and even more so for independent news media. But you can see what a difference The Independent has made to the province here over the years and how it’s influenced the news coverage in this province. The Independent is little, but it does, as you say, hit above its weight. I can’t wait to see what you do!

DB: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Canadian media, both as an academic and now for several years as a worker. The state of the industry overall is pretty bleak. The media ecosystem in Newfoundland and Labrador especially is dire. Much of the province outside the overpass is a local news desert; the few journalists we have are grossly under-resourced; the public is at best indifferent and at worst openly hostile. Most of the ‘local’ outlets aren’t even locally owned anymore. I don’t think I’ve spoken to anybody who works in journalism here who feels optimistic about the general drift of things.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Digital platforms don’t have to kill local journalism – they can help it thrive. It’s something people very clearly want and need. And I think The Independent is really well-positioned to do this. It’s already done so much for journalism in the province, all with a shoestring budget and a skeleton crew. Why? Because The Independent has never pulled its punches. It answers only to God and the readers. It is the freest of the local free press.

So, even though editing The Indy is a large and vaguely terrifying responsibility to the province, it’s an opportunity I feel obligated – and excited – to take.

MP: We’ll do this conversation again in a few days. We’ll talk Muskrat Falls and we’ll give you a chance to tell us all what you have planned. In the meantime, you can read Bridget Canning’s next two instalments in her hilarious flash fiction series called Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain Its Romance. You can also  listen to two of our Post-Oil NL audio stories: a chat with Rhonda Pelley about the tarot card art pieces she created in response to Muskrat Falls and the province’s history of being taken advantage of. Jerry Dick talks about how we can think differently about community and home design in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Rhonda Pelley forecasts Newfoundland and Labrador’s future using a series of tarot card visual art pieces she created. She said she wanted to create art in response to Muskrat Falls and to the province’s history of being taken advantage of.
Read more from the Post-Oil NL project. You can find other fiction and nonfiction stories related to the Post-Oil NL project here.


All this started with a set of discussion papers organized by Memorial University sociology professor Barb Neis in 2016, called Asking the Big Questions: Reflections on a Sustainable Post Oil-dependent Newfoundland and Labrador. We’ve built a bunch of stories around the issues we read about in the papers: audio stories, flash fiction, opinion, and essays. (We’ll keep dropping new content every two weeks.) I’d like to thank Barb Neis and the authors of the sixteen discussion papers for starting this discussion and for talking to us about their visions (or nightmares) for the future.

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ABOUT OUR AUDIO STORYTELLER: Rebecca Nolan has always loved stories. Raised on a strict diet of fairytales and greek myths as a child, she decided to pursue a degree in folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Through her degree, Rebecca fell in love with interviewing people from all walks of life. Now she spends most of her time making radio and trying to bring people’s stories to life. 

Katie Vautour / Not Yet, Then, and Now / Description: An ever-evolving city and landscape that was created from the ground up by architecture, design and nature, which no one could foresee, yet was created by humans. It is a jumble of the past, present and future.

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