This is our hill and these are our beans: reflections on culture

“It’s a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans!” – Frank Drebin
-The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)


Longstanding readers of this blog will know of my interest in the role of culture and how it influences economic development.  Specifically,  I am interested in the mix of characteristics – the culture – of a place that makes it worth saving – or makes it worth fighting for.

I read a fair amount of history and there are many fascinating stories of peoples fighting – dying – to save their little corner of terra firma.

While not the same magnitude, of course, this thinking applies to places like New Brunswick.  What makes a person perceive value in their community/province – enough value to be worth saving?

For people who think the death of communities is not possible – just drive to Labrador through Quebec or some of the more remote areas of Newfoundland.  It is certainly possible for communities to completely die out and I think there is a strong possibility that there are communities – even regions – in New Brunswick that literally may not exist as any kind of real community within 50 years or so.

What makes people want to save a community – more specifically – fight for it to grow and thrive?   What are the cultural aspects that bind people to a place?  As Frank Drebin says, this is our hill and our beans.

There are symbols that make people proud of a place – Cape Breton Highlands, Rita MacNeil, foods, landscape – Cape Breton oozes culture – and elements to make people proud but its economy remains quite moribund.  I heard about an ex-Cape Bretoner CEO club that used to meet in Toronto and talk about their beloved home – but I don’t see these companies investing in CB in a big way.

But specifically to New Brunswick  – what are those symbols?  Who was the last really famous hockey player from here?  Danny Grant?  How about musician?  Author – some have moved away but retain their NB identity.  What makes NBers pround to be NBers?  What are those cultural markers?

I think of a guy like Kurt Peacock – he’s a diehard advocate for Saint John with the side benefit of really understanding how economies work.  That’s a rare mix in this province.  We need diehard advocates fighting all over the province but that understand fundamentally how economies work.

I meet many zealots in New Brunswick but they tend to be fighting for the environment (which is very important) or dreaming of fighting battles in Africa or other parts of the third world.  There are others that fight for social justice and the elimination of poverty.  Vital.    I don’t see this kind of passion for economic development.  I never have.  Once in a while I’ll get a call, email or blog comment by someone in an uproar about the economic challenges facing their community but it is rare.

It’s almost like people think our economic destiny is inevitable but everything else – environment, social justice, poverty, etc. has a changeable destiny. If we fight hard enough, we can eliminate urban poverty in Saint John.  If we fight hard enough, we can secure pervasive language rights in New Brunswick.  If we fight hard enough, we can really address our literacy problem.

Economy?  Nah.  That’s predestined.

If you don’t have an economy, the rest of your fighting the good fight will be like building a house on eroding sand dunes.  You will end up with a very strong house – great social justice, harmony between linguistic groups, a pristine physical environment – slowly sinking into the water.

In fact, that kind of sums it up right now.

6 thoughts on “This is our hill and these are our beans: reflections on culture

  1. It’s because even if the economy improves, the people don’t benefit. I know I may sound like a broken record, but the province has to belong to all of us before people will care what happens to it.

  2. David,
    What’s your take on writers such as Richard Florida (“Who’s Your City,” “The Great Reset,” “Rise…,” etc) and Bill McKibbon (“Deep Economy”)?



  3. Would you say that building a strong cultural identity is an important step to solidifying our economic future?

  4. I don’t know about the strength of the cultural link and economic development. Cape Breton has very deep cultural roots – hasn’t positively impacted the economy yet. My gut tells me that people who love their community would want to save it. Not sure. As for Richard Florida, he made an important contribution with the creative class but he extended it too far and The Great Reset was a twice baked rehash of a whole body of literature on virtue of megacities. I felt kind of bad for him – one day he was telling Sackville, NB (pop 4,000) they were an ideal ‘creative community’ and the next he is advocating governments ignore Sackville and pour everything into the megaurbans. Must have cut down on his business somewhat. There are only so many megaurban regions to peddle into.

  5. David
    thanks for the kind words. I had a lot of fun writing my #nextcity column. I was woefully underpaid for it (ah, the plight of a historian and economic researcher in NB), but I wanted to start an interesting community conversation. So far, I’ve achieved this.

    Who knows where this might lead, behind the paywall? Perhaps we can set up a Campbell vs. Peacock discussion, much like the Coyne vs. Wells online forums Maclean’s used to have, before Coyne jumped ship.


    Kurt Peacock

  6. We need advocates at the local level. I operate at a provincial level – an accident of history and necessity – but development occurs in local communities. We need KPs in every locality.

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