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OTHER ITA SITES:
Community Economic Sustainability- A Saboteur Within
Many North American communities are experiencing increasing growth and the myriad of pressures that comes with such forms of change. While it’s important to recognize our world continually evolves, it is becoming increasingly evident we must have a responsible plan in place to manage our evolutionary processes, especially in the area of urban sprawl.
Urban sprawl, a form of uncontrolled development, is proving to be a rising challenge for many communities. This form of development is unsustainable over the long run and adds significant pressure to traffic congestion, agricultural lands, infrastructure, not to mention the compromising of green spaces.
Every community desires to reach a point of economic sustainability, a place where by the community can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely. Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of The Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability relates to the economic, social, institutional, and environmental aspects of society. The concept follows the reality that our planet is in it’s resources “finite”, and the concept of “infinite” growth beliefs in areas of human growth and consumption are irresponsible at best.
While each and every one of us wants to see our hometown do well and become a vital vibrant community where our children can grow up, find jobs and remain, for many communities this concept is nothing more than a pipe dream. Of greater perplexing reality are those communities who have much of what it takes to be an economically sustainable community, yet deep within their ranks lays a saboteur, an element within the community that resists change to the point of killing future hopes of their region.
Having just returned from a 10 month stint in a northern British Columbia, Canada community called Smithers, this writer witnessed an example of a community wanting and fighting for economic sustainability. More evident was the daunting presence of a saboteur within their ranks.
Smithers is a community nestled up against the foot of Hudson Bay Mountain. A community of 6000, that boasts itself as an athletes paradise with a Bavarian flair. From every aspect, Smithers is a town with incredible development potential. It offers everything from air quality so pure it leaves you sleepy, incredible skiing, golfing, king salmon fishing, and all this within 5 minutes of town. Smithers is a community where it’s most clear they want you to come, and like most tourist communities, spend all your money before you leave. Geographically, this community is poised in such a way to be a vibrant central hub to the region, and yet, why does it seem to struggle with taking the next step?
Like many communities Smithers is plagued by a segment of it’s populace who are resistant to change. A segment of people who don’t want to see change in their community, to the point of launching militant parades down the main street of town, reminiscent of 17th century town square mobs preparing to burn witches at the stake.
My own experience with the people of Smithers was not uncommon for outsiders. As a temporary 10 month visitor to the community I made the point of introducing myself to my neighbors. To the house on our left I was told during my greeting, that in Smithers the belief of many in the community was, “you’re not much if you’re not Dutch!” To the house on the right side I was confronted by a bewildered lady who was caught off guard that I’d even try to introduce myself in the neighborhood as “I would find Smithers to be very unfriendly”. Two weeks later a man from the neighborhood came to my door to inform my son and I, that unknown to myself, the neighbor’s (who we had not yet met) had held a private meeting and decided my son and I were not welcome, and we should leave the town of Smithers as quickly as was possible. During the same period of our “warm ,heart felt welcoming”, the retail giant Wal-Mart, scouted Smithers for a potential store location. The public resistance to Wal-Mart was loud and astonishing with many failing to realize the taxes collected from one Wal-Mart store each year would equal the total community operational budget.
A year later, the name “Wal-Mart” has become a muffled sound amongst the often empty coffee shops in Smithers, while many retail store fronts on Smithers Main Street still sit empty.
Economic sustainability for any community can work, but it will never succeed as long as the people are resistant to change. Resistance to change becomes the great saboteur for many a community whose hopes and aspirations are great.
If North American communities are going to last, people must embrace one simple truth. People, like the times they live in, evolve. Change is inevitable, unbridled resistance to change is only destructive. Economic sustainability occurs when a community embraces and learns how to focus the power of change for their betterment.
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