Veritas Viridis – 6 – Community Preventive Medicine

Most of us understand that the optimal time to focus on health is not when we have a heart attack. The age-old principle of “a stitch in time saves nine” reminds us that early interventions can prevent later crises. Modest exercise, stress management and a balanced diet of moderation can all help reduce the risk of health problems later in life.

Like careless individuals, some communities unwittingly have an elevated risk of future calamities, such as environmental degradation, litigation, lost economic opportunity and civic conflict due to complacency and inertia. By implementing thoughtful action – a sort of preventive medicine – now, communities can improve their health and sense of well-being, and reduce the risk of later problems.

Our experience with our own local municipality is a case in point. For generations, a cabal of land-owners has controlled municipal affairs with the objective of minimizing services and taxes. In the absence of any significant issues, most citizens were lulled into the sense that all was well with local governance. The submission of the first significant property development proposal in a long time served as a sobering wake-up call.

Since there was no established track-record in dealing with proposals, the process at city hall was somewhat ad hoc. It wasn’t long before the rumor mill provoked a back-lash from a segment of the population opposed to the development and angry at the process. A perfunctory council meeting in which concerned citizens were further provoked to a state of dismay caught our attention too, so we started to look under the hood (so to speak). The administration had assured the public that the proposal met all regulatory requirements, and distributed a copy of the proposal to those on the municipal e-mail list, along with the advisory planning committee’s recommendations.

The first thing we discovered is that the volunteer planning committee was not provided with an independent urban planner’s review of the proposal to guide them. Our second discovery was that a complete copy of planning regulations was not available online. The third surprise was that the regulations were out of date and not reflecting best practices in community planning and sustainable development. Our fourth discovery was that a couple of years previously there had been a public call to review the community plan, but no one responded and so the mayor and a council member were revising regulations in isolation. And when we reviewed the actual development proposal, we found some issues of significant concern.

The analogy is like trying to fix the heart attack patient’s diet and exercise regimen while accompanying him in the ambulance on its way to emergency. So here’s the preventive medicine we prescribe to those communities that haven’t yet had their wake-up call (or when “the patient” is stabilized):

  1. Find and hire local consultants specializing in sustainable community planning
  2. Have them engage the administration and the public in a facilitated collaborative process that:
  • Educates them on sustainable communities, using frameworks and case studies
  • Presents an analysis of the community (history, environment, resources, links, demographics, ownership etc.)
  • Draws out their hopes and fears, issues and concerns
  • Builds bridges between differing sectors and cultures
  • Defines a shared vision of the community in 10-20 years
  • Defines economic, social and environmental objectives and strategies that support the vision
  • Revises the community plan to reflect the objectives
  • Defines a clear process for responding to development proposals that is open and transparent
  • Publicizes and celebrates the results

With these elements in place, citizens can be confident that only development proposals that are aligned with the publically-defined community plan will be approved, developers are less likely to be sand-bagged by interest groups, and the process itself won’t aggravate the trauma of change.

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About Peter Clark

An international leader in sustainable development and green design, Peter Clark brings a wealth of experience in resort, institutional and commercial development, renovations, property management and operations in Canada and Mexico.

4 Responses to “Veritas Viridis – 6 – Community Preventive Medicine”

  1. Kathleen Maher-Wagner February 10, 2012 11:52 am #

    Good article thanks for all your hard work and all the time you have put into this on behalf of all of us.

  2. Peter Clark February 10, 2012 12:44 pm #

    Thanks Kathleen. Let’s keep promoting the idea of a facilitated community consultation process. We can do this.

  3. Charles Fyon February 10, 2012 6:59 pm #

    Very well written article. I hope that we will prevail

    • Peter Clark February 12, 2012 4:37 pm #

      Thanks Charlie – let’s turn hope into an action plan.

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