Community examines 'success' 

Whistler. It’s Our Future community consultation process underway

The community rose to the municipality’s challenge to get involved and make a difference at the first public workshop dealing with Whistler’s future.

"Municipal council and staff believe that the future of Whistler is everybody’s business," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, kicking off the first in a series of public consultation events.

About 100 people filled a room at the Westin Resort and Spa on Thursday, July 18, many of them familiar faces around town.

Those people were there to have a say in what will ultimately become Whistler’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan – a lofty document aimed at tackling economic, environmental and social sustainability for the resort.

This plan will eventually replace the current Whistler 2002 document as well as the Comprehensive Development Plan.

It will be the main document outlining how the community addresses the future in a sustainable manner.

"I’m going to take every opportunity I can to influence it," said local resident Tina Symko.

Before getting down to work in smaller groups, the main consultant Rebecca Zimmerman, principal with Design Workshop in Denver, gave a brief overview of the 120 page background report, which was the stepping stone for the first night’s discussions.

In the report were the characteristics and criteria for a successful destination mountain resort within the context of Whistler.

Zimmerman had dire warnings for a future Whistler maturing without a plan in place. She pointed to the demise of Aspen as a prime example – a resort that reached maturity, only to go into decline. People don’t live there anymore. Many storefronts are empty. There is no real sense of community.

Vail is not far behind either, she said.

Whistler on the other hand is still in the growth stage, on its way to maturity and may follow the same path as Aspen and Vail.

"Unless you do something different," she cautioned.

The mayor echoed those sentiments saying that Whistler has to turn away from the trend of other destination mountain resorts.

The vision was summed up in the name of the campaign splashed across the chests of the mayor and other municipal staff in lime green T-shirts – Whistler. It’s Our Future.

Whistler has to decide purposefully and strategically how not to follow the course that other resorts have taken as they reached maturity, said Zimmerman.

"It needs to be a dedicated effort for Whistler to have a different conclusion," she said.

A successful resort community of the future will meet a variety of needs like emphasizing environmental values, integrating the natural and built environments, delivering recreational opportunities and growing with a changing demographic.

The crowd was broken down into four smaller workshop groups, tackling the four key drivers of success as identified by the consultants.

Those success drivers are vision and leadership, protecting the environment, a strong and vibrant community and enriching the Whistler experience.

Each group tackled one success driver. The groups were responsible for adding, subtracting or commenting on a list of criteria, which had been compiled earlier.

The groups were directed by facilitators to deal with success criteria at the workshop, leaving sustainability issues to the July 25 workshop – a frustrating challenge for some.

"The issues that people were raising were the right ones," said Zimmerman, who walked around, listening in on the discussions with each of the four groups.

But people were thinking a few steps ahead of the narrow focus of defining success.

Zimmerman said success is the first place to start these discussions.

"How do you take it and first sustain it and secondly make it sustainable? You have to start with the definition of success," she said.

Mitch Rhodes, president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, said the lists of success criteria were all based on the assumption of growth in Whistler.

"We don’t need to put that assumption on any of this," he said.

The public feedback is going into a revised document with the information that was gathered at the second public workshop on sustainability, on July 25.

"I’m not entirely sure what we’ve arrived at," said local Joan Deeks after the first workshop.

"It’s hard to give a concise answer. I know this is not the end process. I’ll certainly come back for next week."

Phase 1 of the process will conclude in September, finishing with a final public consultation weekend Sept. 21-22.

All the feedback from the public workshops and the online, @home and @work discussions will be pooled to develop different scenarios during Phase 2.

Ultimately there will be a preferred scenario chosen, which will then be implemented.

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