Quest for a sustainability plan continues 

Consultants host weekend workshops

The first phase of Whistler’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan is drawing to a close after a weekend of community workshops at the Westin Resort & Spa.

More than 100 members of the community participated in the four-hour weekend workshops that delved into the essential elements, or criteria, that make a destination resort community both successful and sustainable.

At the Saturday morning workshop where approximately 25 people showed up, the question was raise about how the planners were to shape a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan based on community input when so few were taking part in the process.

"The world is run by people, who show up," said Dave Biggs, co-founder of Envision Sustainability Tools who designed a computer program that can create different scenarios of Whistler 20 years down the road based on changing data.

To date the sustainability discussions have involved various groups in the community, like Whistler-Blackcomb employees, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and WORCA members, as well as open community workshops during the summer.

Residents have also been able to put in their two cents through @home and @work discussion kits.

These discussions have centred on two research papers written by the consultants outlining roughly 150 specific criteria that Whistler may need to maintain its success and aim for sustainability for the next 20 years.

The key issues the community raised in the summertime discussions focused on affordability, growth, economic diversification, transportation and access and the environmental impact of development and recreation, among other things.

"Affordability has been voiced by a number of people in a number of different ways," said workshop facilitator Rob Abbott who sparked off one of Saturday’s small discussion groups.

The group grappled with 63 statements, which had been narrowed down from the consultants’ original 150 through community input over the past two months.

"Overall the criteria have a sense of direction that it’s everything we could ever want," said Doug Forseth, senior vice president, operations for Whistler-Blackcomb at the discussion group.

"It’s setting us up to think that everything is possible but it may not be potential."

An example of this came from a debate over the criterion dealing with educational opportunities in the resort.

Under "Building a Strong and Vibrant Community" it states: "Life long learning opportunities are accessible, affordable and of high quality."

The group highlighted the fact that this particular criterion could be a chance to make Whistler a centre of excellence in learning.

"One of the centres of excellence could be around sustainability," said Suzanne Denbak, President of Tourism Whistler.

On the other hand, it may not be feasible to expect this in a community the size of Whistler.

"Can we afford all this?" questioned another person in the group.

Another point raised in the small discussion group was the importance of partnering with neighbouring communities while striving towards sustainability.

Their choices and actions will impact Whistler and affect its path towards success and sustainability.

"It’s strictly impossible for Whistler to be sustainable on its own," said Dan Wilson, sustainability co-ordinator with the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

To help the consultants figure out Whistler’s path to sustainability and success they have engaged the help of Dave Biggs who has designed a computer program called Quest.

"The community is saying ‘we want everything’ and that’s not very useful," said Biggs.

They need to be able to weigh the trade-off’s of certain choices, he said.

This is where Quest comes into play.

The program was developed in 1991 at the University of British Columbia.

Biggs compares Quest to Sim City, a computer game that allows players to build a fictitious city. Quest works along the same principles.

It is programmed using two types of data – hard data like facts and figures as well as data which includes information that people care about, like the amount of snowfall expected in the future.

"(We’re) still gathering input," said Biggs.

"It was one of the purposes of the workshop."

Different scenarios of what Whistler will look like down the road are developed when changing different elements in the game.

For example, you can ask Quest to make future Whistler scenarios based on uncontrolled development, or a population that has doubled in size or vast economic diversification.

People can then decided the merits and pitfalls of each scenario.

Biggs says that outcomes are not written in stone. The computer program cannot predict everything.

Quest is described as essentially acting in the same way as planners figuring out the future on paper, only now it’s on a computer screen.

Phase 1 of Whistler: It’s Our Future will end in mid-October after discussions with other groups in the community, including Whistler Realtors.

Phase 2 will look at possible scenarios for Whistler’s future with the help of Quest. This phase will also engage the community in discussions.

Ultimately after Phase 4 Whistler will have a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan.

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