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Smart Growth B.C. pushes green belt concept

Organization wants to work with communities in corridor

By Andrew Mitchell

Although they’re a latecomer to corridor planning processes currently underway, Smart Growth B.C. is working to ensure that Sea to Sky development doesn’t overwhelm Sea to Sky values.

In January the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment hosted Ione Smith of Smart Growth B.C. to give a presentation on her organization and their plans to create a green belt from Vancouver to Pemberton.

Although their plans overlap with other plans already in development, including the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s Regional Growth Strategy, and First Nations’ land use plans, Smith believes there is still an opportunity to get involved.

“Our goal is to get into contact with as many non-government organizations in the region as possible and figure out what their vision is for Sea to Sky, especially with all the growth and development pressures and hosting the 2010 Games,” she said. “What we’ve been hearing from citizens based on our preliminary work in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton is that they really value that there’s so much natural beauty in the corridor, and are fearful it will be lost in the next 15 to 20 years.”

Smith has already made presentations to the SLRD and the Vancouver Organizing Committee, and has offered Smart Growth’s support to planning processes that are currently underway. The benefit, says Smith, is that Smart Growth affiliates are already active in all 50 U.S. States, as well as in Ontario, and have a lot of resources and expertise to draw upon.

As for Smart Growth’s proposal for a corridor green belt — ensuring that all wildlife corridors between Pemberton and West Vancouver remain linked — Smith says it will take a while to get up to speed with all the planning processes in place. Currently she has funding for two days a week to work on the project through Smart Growth B.C.’s funders, but she believes there is still an opportunity to ensure that Smart Growth principles are included in future planning.

As well, she believes that Smarth Growth can help the public become better informed about the big picture of development and growth in the corridor and the opportunities to help guide that process.

Smart Growth B.C. has also teamed up with the Community Foundation of Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler to host a sustainability workshop on April 21. The theme of the workshops will be “growing greener”, and feature a series of speakers.

“(The workshops) recognize that Whistler citizens are already very sophisticated when it comes to understanding sustainable values, and is far ahead of other communities,” said Smith. “The workshops will basically keep the conversation going, and there will be an opportunity to talk about the growth in the region and how Smart Growth can be applied.”

Smart Growth B.C. receives most of its funding from foundations such as the Vancouver Foundation, Victoria Foundation and Tides Canada. The group is currently working with governments in Maple Ridge, Squamish and Oliver to reduce the impact of urban sprawl and make communities more livable.

There are 10 basic Smart Growth principles: mixing land uses that balance residential, business and recreation; building well-designed and compact neighbourhoods; providing a variety of transportation choices; creating diverse housing opportunities; encouraging growth and redevelopment of existing communities; preserving open spaces and environmentally sensitive areas; protecting and enhancing agricultural lands; using smaller and cheaper infrastructure, and green building standards; fostering unique neighbourhood identities; nurturing engaged citizens to participate in community life and decision-making.