Escape into Nature: The Ideology of Pacific Spirit Regional Park
La Salle, Marina
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This dissertation investigates the ideology of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, an urban forest adjacent to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Using the tools of archaeology and anthropology, I analyse the history, landscape, performance, and discourse of the park to understand Pacific Spirit as a culturally-constructed place that embodies an ideology of imperialism. Central in this dynamic is the carefully crafted illusion of Pacific Spirit as a site of "nature," placed in opposition to "culture," which naturalizes the values that created and are communicated through the park and thereby neutralizes their politics. They remain, however, very political. The park as nature erases the history and heritage of the Indigenous peoples of this region, transforming Pacific Spirit into a new terra nullius-a site to be discovered and explored, militaristic themes that consistently underlie park programs and propaganda. These cultural tropes connect to produce a nationalistic settler narrative wherein class ideals of nature and community are evoked in the celebration of Canada’s history of colonialism and capitalist expansion-paradoxically, the very processes that have caused the fragmentation of communities and ecosystems. The park as nature also feeds into the portrayal of this space as having been saved from development and, as such, an environmental triumph. In this context, the park is viewed as escape from the psychological trauma and alienation of city living and is celebrated and revered as a sacred place. This portrayal enables the forgetting of injustice and promotes a collective amnesia through the creation of a fairy-tale version of reality. The result is to disperse emotion and energy that otherwise could be mobilized against capitalism to prevent ongoing global ecological devastation. The ideology of the Pacific Spirit as nature therefore constitutes social violence by rewriting both the past and present of this land and its peoples, thereby hindering recognition of and rebellion against power. Pacific Spirit is thus a hegemonic space that reproduces colonial relationships and naturalizes capitalism. Exposing the park as a cultural place and illuminating the ideology that it perpetuates may be a crucial first step towards disrupting power through the creation of counter-narratives.