Community grapples with criteria for sustainability 

September weekend workshop will wrap up phase 1 of Whistler. It’s Our Future

The first step to engage the community on its thoughts about Whistler’s future has been completed, although some are left wondering what has actually been done.

"I think the process and the goal is really worthwhile," said Whistler resident Gordon Leidal.

"The jury is still out on how effective it is."

Two workshops on two consecutive Thursday’s provided a forum for discussion and debate on Whistler’s success and sustainability.

The latest workshop, held on July 25 at the Westin Resort and Spa, specifically examined the criteria for a sustainable resort.

The workshop a week earlier, on July 18, examined the criteria for a successful resort.

"The first (workshop) was almost in laymen’s terms," said Christopher Nicolson, public relations and communications manager with Whistler-Blackcomb.

"The second had a little more jargon to it."

Tom Fletcher, project manager for the Whistler. It’s Our Future process, said the numbers were higher at the second session on sustainability than on the first session. He said 85 people signed in to talk about success and 105 signed in to talk about sustainability.

To others in the crowd however, it appeared to be the other way around.

"The turnout for the second session was disappointing and why it was down I have absolutely no idea," said Leidal.

Fletcher admitted that the numbers appeared to be the other way around and he puts that down to the different formats of the workshops.

For the second workshop on sustainability community members sat through a slideshow presentation, which included pictures of things like smokestacks, clear cuts, and exhaust fumes.

They were then given a presentation by American consultant Dr. Warren Flint, who drew up the initial paper on the criteria for sustainability. This paper is the starting point of all the talks.

Flint began his presentation with a definition.

"Whistler will have achieved sustainability when we understand the economic, environmental and social consequences of our action and make deliberate choices that allow us to lead healthy, productive and enjoyable lives in a successful destination resort community," he said.

From the definition came a laundry list of characteristics for sustainability, like economic security, ecological integrity, social equality and adaptive management.

Fletcher said the feedback to the presentation was mixed. Some people enjoyed it and some people felt it missed the mark.

"I think the consultants could have done a better job of getting their message out in that presentation," said Fletcher.

"With any consultant... it’s difficult to predict if they’re in tune with what the community really wants to hear.

"That’s why you go through a public process, because you do get expert consultants. We (wanted) to get that background overview of sustainability issues and then you need the community to help you identify what’s really important to their community and get some clarity on what you need to emphasize."

After the presentation, community members were asked to float among four work groups where they could examine certain sustainability criteria in depth with facilitators.

They were told to ask themselves what the importance of the criteria is in the context of Whistler and secondly, how to best characterize Whistler 20 years down the road.

The format was a little different from the week before, where people were asked to sit in on discussion groups and narrow in on one aspect in detail.

"The first offered a more in depth, systematic approach," said Nicolson.

"I left there (after the second) feeling it wasn’t as detailed."

Many community members have called the topics at the workshops "motherhood issues," ideas that are generally agreed upon by all.

For example, one of the criteria listed in the paper discussing a successful resort is:

"A vision for the resort community is commonly held by residents, business owners, ski area owners, the municipality and the province."

One example of the sustainability criteria is:

"People have a shared vision of the community and take responsibility to help achieve that vision."

Flint said the "how to" of achieving these goals would be discussed at a later date.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly apologized at the workshop for what some community members see as the poor timing – the workshops were held on two consecutive Thursday nights, the same nights as the weekly Lonnie Races.

But he also pointed out that there are other ways to get involved like in the @home and @work discussion groups.

Phase 1 of the four-phase process will be completed after a weekend workshop in September.

Once the consultants have identified and developed a preferred scenario, Whistler will eventually have a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, which will replace the current Whistler 2002 vision document and the Comprehensive Development Plan.

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