The sustainability plan returns

Most of us have seen and heard little of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan in the last 10 months, while elections and Olympics have been front and centre, but the municipality is supposed to roll out the next phase of Whistler. It’s Our Future in September. The CSP was identified as council’s top priority in February, and we’ll all be invited to participate in drafting the plan starting next month.

You may recall the public process of identifying and prioritizing the criteria for a sustainable resort community that began last fall. It was a sometimes-painful exercise of trying to decide what we value as we move toward becoming what we want to be without destroying some of the things that drew us here in the first place.

Sustainability seems to be the mantra of the enlightened in the early part of the 21st century. Minding the triple bottom line – environmental, economic and social sustainability – is the mindset of our time. It’s an update on the thinking of 70 years ago, when places like the Aspen Institute were founded on the philosophy of "nurturing the whole man", through education in the arts, science, politics, economics and the environment. Today we are at the point where we must nurture the whole planet and reduce man’s impact on it.

A shift in thinking about our planet and how we use its resources is absolutely necessary. The "natural" disasters that have struck around the globe in recent years are an early warning. Every individual and every community should be working toward reducing their impact on the planet. But is sustainability a goal in itself for a community? Are not economic and social sustainability things we constantly strive to achieve already?

Whistler has defined sustainability as "a healthy, thriving resort community, where people can live, work and visit in harmony with each other, while not contributing to the systematic decline of natural systems." It’s a fair definition but it’s pretty uninspiring as a rallying cry for what we want to be. Of course, we define ourselves by the decisions we make along the way, and the values that guide those decisions. It’s those decisions that ultimately determine how sustainable we are, and how healthy and thriving the resort community is.

But as honourable a goal as sustainability may be, it doesn’t fully encapsulate a town as dynamic as Whistler. It doesn’t deal with what might be called a sense of place; an understanding of the physical and social makeup of Whistler, and some intangibles that may be beyond definition.

"No place is a place," said the American writer Wallace Stegner, until two things have happened: one, "things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends, or monuments"; and two, "it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry."

That may be a lofty standard for a relatively new town like Whistler, but if you quizzed 100 residents I’ll bet at least 99 of them feel a sense of place here.

Many also have a sense that they may have to leave here at some point. Because as exciting and enriching as it can be, it is also damn hard to achieve some of the things most of us want out of life while living in Whistler.

Next month the CSP will re-appear and we’ll be asked to consider a variety of choices in the context of five scenarios, ranging from no growth to virtually unlimited growth. Each choice will have impacts and the models will attempt to show what those impacts might be.

Perhaps this exercise will lead us to a shared vision of Whistler’s future. It won’t be poetry but it may help us individually define a sense of place, and why we’re here or why we’ll move on.


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