With the expertise of a group from Whistler and funding help from the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia (REFBC), Creston has jumped into a sustainability planning process.
Shannon Gordon was in town last week to meet with an advisory team, conduct a focus group session and lead two public workshops on Saturday.
“This process is about envisioning a successful and sustainable future for your community and creating it together,” said Gordon. “There are many reasons to integrate sustainability into your town planning, but at the most basic level, it seems pointless to plan for the community’s economic success if it can’t continue forever. It makes more sense to plan for success that is also sustainable in the long-term — success that is compatible with the constraints of a finite planet with limited resources.”
Gordon said that a successful sustainability planning process in Whistler had resulted in creating a team that wanted to carry on with its work by offering services to other communities.
“We made lots of mistakes as we went along,” she said. “Why not help other communities not make the same ones? Also, through our experience in Whistler and in working with several communities last year, we have streamlined the process — it helps to get communities involved quickly.”
An application for funding from the REFBC resulted in an unexpected boost, she said. The Sustainability Centre in Whistler applied for $50,000 to help offset the costs for five communities to create a sustainability plan in 2012.
“But the foundation responded with a surprise,” she said. “We were awarded a $100,000 grant.”
That grant allowed Creston and the four other communities that were selected to have more than half of their costs covered, said Town of Creston municipal services co-ordinator Ross Beddoes, who has taken a lead role in working with the Sustainability Centre.
On April 27, about 30 area residents (the town is adamant that the planning should include the entire Creston Valley) gathered at Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce to learn more about what has been named Cultivating Creston is all about and to hear from two local advisors, as well as from Gordon.
“I’m here to learn — a lot of this stuff is foreign to me,” admitted Mayor Ron Toyota. “I’m interested in learning about how we can make these things work for the Creston Valley.”
Gordon explained that there are several reasons for a community to plan ahead for the next 50 years. One is that there is an obligation that comes with gas tax money that the province turns over to municipalities and regional districts.
“Also, it opens us up for getting more grants to help build our communities for the future,” she said, but cautioned, “Let’s not plan forever. There’s lots to be done right away.”
Those things “to be done” would be more closely defined after she compiled the information from the weekend’s public sessions, she said.
“The planning should be about an eight- to nine-month process,” Gordon said.
Integrated community sustainability planning (ICSP) has four key benefits, she told the audience. It guides a community’s other planning and decision-making processes, it encourages collaboration and participation in the community, it provides a comprehensive look at all aspects of a community (not just environmental) and it helps align the community’s direction.
A survey conducted before the ICSP process began indicated that citizens don’t feel that there is a common shared vision of what direction the Creston Valley should be taken.
“Don’t be surprised by this,” she said. “Every community we have worked with has started out with the same belief.”
One member of the Cultivating Cres-ton advisory team said that he had been asked, “Why is Creston awesome?”
“I’ve been here for 41 years and I didn’t expect to spend the rest of my life here when I arrived,” said Alex Nilsson. “But I fell in love with what the outdoors here has to offer — Creston has it all.
“But what is really awesome is that when you retire you can pick the organization you want to work with and really get involved. Everyone is so loving and caring here.”
There is lots of room for improvement, though, he added.
“Just imagine what the railway line would look like if became another Butchart Gardens,” he said.
Also, he added, in an ideal Creston “the bunker” on Northwest Boulevard would be developed into affordable housing and services like therapeutic riding would continue and expand.
“There is no greater thing in the world you can do than to serve others,” Nilsson said. “Because if you do, others will serve you.”
Advisor Christine Ross said the concept of sustainability had moved from a concept to a real need since she was studying architecture in the 1970s.
“I thought sustainability would be what I would be working on for my entire career at that point,” she said. “What happened?”
There has been progress, though, she admitted.
“Now it is actually in the mainstream. What an incredible opportunity we have!”
“Sustainability planning is becoming mainstream,” Gordon echoed. “The constraints of the planet are becoming so apparent. The risk of inaction is so obvious.”
More information can be found at www.creston.ca.