Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cutting Through the Bull****

As fermenting grapes become wine over time, oft-repeated myths become “truth”. These myths are especially pervasive and powerful when it comes to environmental and social issues. A good example of the power of an unchallenged myth is the perception that environmental protection has a negative impact on community economic growth. That’s why many folks think environmental protection has a negative impact on economic growth.
This is a myth. Sustainable economic growth helps to build community environmental capacity. Economic growth that poses unacknowledged environmental risks to the community is a dagger pointed at the heart of the community’s future. Ask the people of Hungary living below the recently burst toxic dams if their economic benefits were worth the environmental costs.
What is the linkage between a community’s economic and environmental interests? Responsible economic development openly acknowledges and mitigates potential environmental damage. It looks for economic activity like new farming operations recycling community wastewater that resolve present environmental issues.
Community environmental assets are economic assets. Tourism and hospitality ventures focusing on community environmental assets make everyone winners.
Responsible environmental planning recognizes the need for a strong economic base to maintain community services and infrastructure. The residential tax base alone is often incapable of supporting community aspirations, including environmental protection.
We’re all too familiar with the folks who play the black / white game. Quick-buck boys who try to ram economic development proposals through the planning process without independent environmental assessments have left their mark on Alberta’s landscape. The unrealistic demands of environmental Luddites wanting to turn back the landscape clock to pre-settlement days have too often poisoned the well of public opinion against environmental protection.
The nature of the planning processes used by communities can have a negative impact. Dysfunctional planning processes driven by the old myth and planning structures often turn equally compelling community interests against each other.
The time has come when active, engaged and committed communities see the old script about environmental protection for the bullwhiz that it is. Why should economic development planning operate in splendid isolation from environmental and social planning? Wouldn’t outcomes determined by collaborative processes that value and balance equally compelling yet competing interests better serve the community?
It takes a community with the courage to trust the various community groups to work together to create an integrated community plan. Integrated planning also requires a community with the vision and courage to know and balance their own community aspirations, and one that has the patience for such a process to happen.
Do such communities exist in Alberta? Will we see this kind of planning? The conventional wisdom, driven by our old image as a bunch of redneck boomers, would say that would happen when cowboys wear earrings. Yet who would have thought that Canada’s first Muslim mayor would have been elected in ------ Calgary???? Folks, keep your eye on the jewelry counter.

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