Sustainable Community Planning: Comox Valley

Heather Beckett and Chris Ling
Published January 22, 2007

Case Summary

Many Canadian communities are experiencing increasing growth and its subsequent development pressures.  While it is important to recognize that growth and development are inevitable, it is equally important to have responsible and proactive planning in place.  The Comox Valley (comprising the municipalities of the City of Courtenay, the Town of Comox, the Village of Cumberland and the Comox-Strathcoma Regional District) is one such community that has to make important decisions regarding sustainability and planning.  Politicians, planners and citizens need to respond to, and find meaningful ways to manage, increasing population growth, consequent development pressures and subsequent urban planning issues.  This case study explores these issues, identifies key components of sustainable community planning, some of the challenges and opportunities that exist for establishing a sustainable community plan, and recommends possible solutions to overcome identified challenges and realize identified opportunities for implementing sustainability in community planning for the Comox Valley. 

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Urban sprawl, a form of uncontrolled development, is presenting a challenge for many Canadian communities.  This style of development is unsustainable over the long-term and contributes to increasing traffic congestion, diminishing green space and agricultural lands, and costly infrastructure needs (Roseland, 1998).  In response, communities and their governments are searching for ways to integrate sustainability to address the social, economic and environmental considerations into planning processes. 

Sustainability requires a shift away from the predominant view that community decisions are best based on short-term goals, where society, the economy and the environment are separate, unrelated parts (Sustainable Measures, 2005).  This ideological shift recognizes the interrelated nature of the economic, environmental and social aspects of communities.  In order to address the need for more integrated planning, local governments are exploring new approaches to community planning.

The role of local government in advancing sustainability initiatives was recognized in Local Agenda 21 (Agenda 21), an international agreement signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.  Local Agenda 21 recognizes that the decisions of communities affect the long-term sustainability of both their community and the planet (UN Conference on Environment and Development, 1992; Hallsmith, 2003).  Local governments have the potential to affect the necessary changes needed to ensure their community’s future is built on the principles of sustainability.

While it is important to recognize that population growth and subsequent land development are inevitable, it is equally as important to have responsible and proactive planning mechanisms in place to manage growth and development.  Although there is no single definition for a sustainable community, there is one common objective: to meet a community’s economic and social needs while not compromising the natural environment (Roseland, 1998; Nozick, 1999).  Sustainable community plans aim to use urban space efficiently by minimizing consumption of natural capital and multiplying social capital (the shared knowledge and patterns of interaction of a group of people) while simultaneously engaging citizens and their governments in decision-making processes (James and Lahti, 2004; Roseland, 1998; Hallsmith, 2003). 

Critical Success Factors

The critical success factors in this case study are presented in terms of key recommendations developed from the research carried out in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, BC, and are focused on the delivery of sustainable community development in a rapidly growing region.

Recommendation 1: Promote a Systems Thinking Approach

Agencies of knowledge (council members and civic staff) need to have an understanding of the whole system.  Without integrated decision-making sustainability remains a process of “applying incomplete knowledge to problems” (Moore, 1994, p. 19).  Rather than examining issues in isolation of one another, decision-makers must adopt a holistic and integrated approach; one that equally incorporates the three imperatives of sustainability into planning goals. 

Recommendation 2: Find a Champion

A champion is someone, a local government staff planner or council member, who wishes to establish themselves as knowledgeable of sustainability issues.  In addition, this individual would be someone who is willing to learn about the issues and find solutions, and in turn would inform other decision-makers.  A champion has the potential to be an effective starting point for entrenching sustainability into the planning dialogue because they serve as a credible source of information and have access to those in decision-making positions. 

A champion voluntarily takes extraordinary interest in the adoption, implementation, and success of a cause, policy, program, project, or product, in this case, sustainable development. He, or she, will typically try to force the idea through entrenched internal resistance to change, and will evangelize it throughout the organization/community as needed. As a result, such a catalytic individual would play a significant role in advancing government towards actions that support sustainability. 

Recommendation 3: Learn from Other Examples of Sustainability

Exchanging information and ideas is integral to expanding sustainability knowledge, understanding and the skill base.  Learning from other examples serves to deepen sustainability knowledge and literacy through the exchange of information.

Recommendation 4: Develop Meaningful Public Participation Engagement Strategies

Effective participation depends on the adoption of appropriate tools and processes.  Civic participation is the key to overcoming inertia and resistance to achieving sustainability in our communities (Moore, 1997).  A plan that reflects the values and interests of the community will ensure its effectiveness and longevity through changing governments.  Some public engagement strategies include: local roundtables, community mapping sessions, citizen review boards, and neighbourhood councils. 

Recommendation 5: Develop a Long-term Community Vision

“A long-term vision is the starting point for catalyzing positive change leading to sustainability” (Hallsmith, 2003, p. 21). 

This vision must reflect the diverse values and interests of the community, and in doing so will “provide the inspiration, motivation and direction to propel a community forward and encourage the various interest groups to work together with a common purpose” (Fodor, 1999, p. 148).  Furthermore, this vision must encompass the environment, economy and social justice issues, and incorporate an intergenerational component.  Some useful planning tools for developing a long-term community vision are: a strategic community planning conference; a community task force that focuses on the economy, environment and social issues; and back casting.  Ultimately a successful long-term community vision process finds areas of agreement, broadens stakeholder involvement in the process, views planning as a cyclical process, and establishes concrete actions for sustainability (James and Lahti, 2004). 

Recommendation 6: Adopt a Bioregional Approach

A bioregional approach could be used to highlight the interdependence of communities, as well as the ecological limitations of the region (Boydell, 2002).  By adopting a bioregional approach, local governments better understand how their planning decisions affect surrounding communities, and impact local environmental systems.  As a result, sustainability planning and solutions are framed in an inter-jurisdictional and cohesive manner that results in a partnership between all four municipal governments. 

Recommendation 7: Establish Sustainability Indicators

Sustainability indicators serve as a key of indices comprising actual steps the community must take to achieve sustainability.  Decision-makers can use the indicator framework to identify concrete goals, implementation strategies and feedback mechanisms.  This framework would ensure environmental quality, economic improvements and social equity in an effort to bring the communities closer to realizing sustainability.  Local decision-makers can benefit from using a variety of current examples from other communities using the sustainability indicator framework.  Such examples include the Sustainable Seattle Project and Hamilton-Wentworth’s Sustainable Community Indicators Project

Recommendation 8: Develop a Regional Strategy for Sustainability

Currently, the interdependence of the communities of the Comox Valley is not reflected in planning goals, and as a result governance systems are fragmented.  A regional framework may be an effective way to begin a sustainability dialogue between each of the communities.  The communities need to develop strategies that discourage the current trends for development that lead to undesirable land-use and instead promote environmental protection, equitable economic opportunities, and strong social policy (Hempel, 1999).

Community Contact Information

Heather Beckett
1818 Queens Ave, Comox, BC, V9M 2B9

Detailed Background Case Description


The Comox Valley is situated on the east side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  It is comprised of three municipalities (City of Courtenay, the Town of Comox, the Village of Cumberland), and the Comox-Strathcoma Regional District.

The Comox Valley’s population grew by 51% between 1986 and 2004, and is projected to increase by 1.02% over the next 10 years (Comox Valley Economic Development Society, 2006).  The increase in population has caused an increase in development and the expansion of urban boundaries.  For example, the Village of Cumberland annexed an additional 22 square kilometers in 2002, which increased the land area of the village from 6 square kilometers to 30 square kilometers years (Comox Valley Economic Development Society, 2002). 

Both the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox are continuing to develop within their own current boundaries, while also continuing to look for new land for future urban development.  In response to future development options, Courtenay and Comox have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in which land outside their current boundaries has been designated as future growth receiving areas for the two municipalities. There are now ongoing negotiations for a new MoU incorporating the three municipalities as well as three of the Regional Districts electoral areas in a MoU representing a draft protocol for a new integrated growth strategy (Comox-Strathcoma Regional District, 2006). 

As a result of continued rapid growth, the three municipalities and the Regional District are presented with an important challenge:  the local governments of the Comox Valley can continue to endorse urban sprawl, or they can seek alternatives that advance a long-term vision that equally integrates economic, social and ecological factors.  In addition, these communities not only face the challenge of devising alternatives for their own individual community, but must also advance the sustainability of the Comox Valley communities as a whole. 

The findings of this case study are based on interviews with staff and elected officials selected because they were involved in the planning decision-making process.  The sample size represents more than 50 percent of decision-makers involved in the community planning process (17 of 30 potential participants). The interview:

  1. Determined the extent of sustainability knowledge and understanding held by local government employees and council members interviewed;
  2. Investigated how local governments integrate the principles of sustainability into planning practices; and,
  3. Identified challenges to and opportunities for incorporating sustainability principles into local planning mandates and initiatives. 

Understanding and Interpretation of Sustainability and Sustainable Development

Sustainability and sustainable development have different meanings and objectives to the various interviewees.  Eight respondents stated that sustainability should incorporate three integral pillars: social, environmental and economic. 29% of interviewees cited an intergenerational and multi-jurisdictional component to sustainability.

Other interviewees identified the concepts in terms of growth; a mechanism whereby we can anticipate and mange inevitable development.  Three of the participants viewed sustainability and sustainable development as a tool to guarantee growth management.  As one interviewee stated, “sustainability is a way to expand your tax base and promote planned growth”. 

Four interviewees viewed sustainability and sustainable development as problematic terms, ones that can be considered “trite buzzwords” and could “mean a number of things”.  These concepts were also considered an “ideal” and there is “no such thing as sustainability, as [society] is unable to reach a neutral and symbiotic relationship” with the natural environment.  Instead, society can “merely attempt to minimize [its] impacts”. 

Understanding of Sustainability within a Community Planning Context

71% of interviewees linked sustainability and community planning - stating that these both require the development of a long-term vision for the community:

“community planning is about having a long-term vision, in order that we can determine who we are, what we want and how do we get there”.

Six participants saw community planning as being a process that is based on a “predetermined vision” rather than one that is reactionary, ensuring that “the community directs development and land use, rather than developers directing development”.  Although there was a clear notion that community planning needed to be directed by a forward thinking vision, 35% of participants felt that market demands and fluctuations played a larger role in the type of community planning occurring, rather than a predetermined community vision, directing planning and land use. 

Interviewees also felt that sustainability in community planning was inextricably linked to land use: “it is about appropriate development and appropriate locations for that development”, “making appropriate land use decisions affect the ability for the City to achieve sustainability”, and that “development of land needs to become more site specific; decisions should be based on land details”. 

Several participants discussed the role that communication has in defining the future of the community including communication between local government decision-makers and their citizens, and communication between each of the local governments in the Comox Valley.  As one interviewee said, “we need to have social engagement; the process must be about educating the public about the issues so they can be engaged”.  Many other participants also indicated the importance of involving the public in community planning.  As one participant said, “sustainability is about having an open process, having an inclusive majority”.  The notion of an open process was cited as important for securing trust among its citizens, according to another participant, the open process “leads to a higher level of trust and confidence”. 

While emphasis was placed on the importance of community involvement, participants also discussed the importance of communication between each of the local government bodies: “we need to have an interrelated system of government bodies; they can’t work in solitude”.  While some felt their organization had a good working relationship with one of the four local governments, only three participants cited there was a good working relationship between their organization and all four local governments in the Comox Valley.  One participant stated, “There is no interest from the municipalities to work on a Comox Valley wide community plan”.  Ten of the interviewees felt that a regional growth strategy would serve as a starting point for dialogue between all four governments, one that may be useful for developing a Comox Valley plan to address growth and development issues.

Four participants cited that in addition to communicating within the community, it is important to “exchange ideas with other communities, in order to learn what works and what doesn’t work”.  Effective planning requires looking to other communities “for examples and models that exist elsewhere of sustainable community development plans” in order that “we stay current” and can learn from “past mistakes”.

65% of participants felt that their organization did not equally address the three imperatives of sustainability.  59% of participants cited the social ‘pillar’ as the one least addressed or lacking proper policies in planning.  It should be noted that participants often divided the social imperative into two main categories: cultural (i.e. arts and sports facilities); and social programs (i.e. affordable housing and homeless issues).  When participants felt that the social imperatives were not adequately addressed, they were referring to social programs rather than cultural programs.  Five participants felt that it was not part of local government’s mandate or responsibility to provide solutions to homelessness, women’s shelters or affordable housing programs; rather it fell within the provincial and federal governments’ jurisdiction.  Other participants identified the lack of a clear definition or understanding of these social issues as a reason for them not being addressed adequately. 

53% of interviewees felt environmental issues are being adequately addressed; almost all felt their organization managed economic issues effectively. 

Four participants felt their organization equally addressed the three imperatives of sustainability in their planning goals: “We are on the right track to keep the balance of the three pillars of sustainability”.  One participant said, “everyone feels they do but it is based on your vision or philosophy whether we really are”.  This notion of a relaxed commitment to sustainability was further supported by another participant’s statement: “the official community plan is a key document used to establish the vision for the community’s direction but the weakness is in its implementation”. 

Identified Barriers to Implementing Sustainability in Community Planning for the Comox Valley

Economic Barriers

  1. Inadequate Funding: 2 participants identified inadequate funding as a barrier to achieving sustainability in the Comox Valley.  Specifically, inadequate funding hindered the ability for municipal staff to research and implement sustainability initiatives in community planning.  In addition, participants identified budgetary restrictions as a hindrance to the ability to hire planners that address different aspects of community planning (i.e. social or environmental planners).
  2. Economic Valuation: 6 participants identified the protection of short-term economic interests over long-term sustainability interests as a barrier to sustainable community planning.  Sustainability is seen as “too costly” - “economic pressures have too high a force to bring in the other values of social and environmental; economic values often win out”.
  3. Willingness to Pay: Two participants identified willingness to pay as a barrier to achieving sustainability.  One participant stated, “the biggest barrier is the public’s willingness to pay, it is not there to achieve sustainability”. 


  1. Lack of Political Will: 53% of participants identified a lack of political will as a barrier: “[political] will, both political and citizen; there is a reluctance to change the tradition” crucial because “innovation and technology exist, the barrier is will to embrace it”.
  2. Inadequate Policies and Legislation: Many participants identified the importance of tools such as Official Community Plans (OCP) and bylaws in community planning, but these were seen as being “inconsistent”, “weak”, “outdated” and “difficult and cumbersome to use” with “different standards being applied within the four communities”.  Two participants identified a weakness in implementation as a barrier; and a “lack of legal mechanisms in place to support sustainability”.
  3. Limitation of Jurisdiction: Eight interviewees identified this barrier. The manifestation of this concern is the divide in provincial and municipal responsibilities and the existence of four local governments - “we can’t have one set of standards on one side of the highway that differ from the other side”.  Therefore, to achieve sustainability, Comox Valley municipalities will “need to set joint standards”. 
  4. Lack of Information Sharing: Lack of information sharing was identified as a barrier by 6 participants, both between and within the four municipalities and between the decision-makers, and those with the knowledge required for sustainable community development. 
  5. Lack of a Collective Community Vision: 6 of the 17 interviewees identified a lack of collective community vision as a barrier to sustainability. There is a mismatch between the rural planning and municipal planning goals, as well as between the organizational and political levels of the municipal governments.
  6. Fluid Nature of Council: Two participants identified the fluid nature of councils as a potential barrier to achieving sustainability.  Changing ideologies means that the Official Community Plan should be a vital tool to provide continuity between elections. If the public has enough vested in the OCP – then they will hold elected officials to account based on its contents.

Perceptual Barriers

  1. Urban/Rural Divide:  53% participants cited an incompatibility of urban and rural goals as a barrier to achieving sustainability.  There exists “a different cultural element; people choose to live rurally for a reason and people choose to live urban for a reason”, “the urban/rural divide is based on political desires; the attitude of the municipalities is that they can keep expanding”.  This attitude represents a “philosophical divide between urban and rural” meaning reaching consensus around a community plan is more challenging.
  2. Cultural Norms: 7 participants identified deeply embedded cultural norms as barriers: “we are dealing with a public that wants it all, to have the environment taken care of but also want their single family home and ‘SUV’”; “culture – the desire to have a house, two-car garage, driving culture and privacy” as a major barrier to sustainability. Society wants to “maintain the status quo – people are afraid of change”.
  3. Insufficient Knowledge: 7 (41%) interviewees cited a lack of understanding or awareness that alternative methods to planning and development exist: “knowledge poses a challenge; the knowledge held by developers and by members of council”; “each member of council has a different base of knowledge of the issues, there is an ignorance of elected officials on the issues”.
  4. Lack of Common Language: Seven participants identified a lack of a common language as a barrier to sustainability.  As one participant stated, “[we] need to find a common language and knowledge of the terms, [such as] green space – to some this means a golf course and to others a natural forest”.  Another participant stated, “The biggest barrier is a misunderstanding of what is sustainability.  We need a real analysis of what it really means”. 
  5. Competing Values and Issues: 29% of the participants cited competing values and issues as a barrier.  One participant stated, “Economic pressure has too high a force to bring in other values of social and environment”.  Another participant cited the ‘Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon’; there is a conflict between government initiatives (i.e. multifamily housing) and public perceptions of these initiatives.  As a result, the public does not want these initiatives to be included in their community. 

Identified Opportunities for Implementing Sustainability in Community Planning

Learning from Examples

Ten participants cited the importance of learning from relevant examples of global and local sustainability initiatives; decision-makers and the public can then use this information to challenge the norms of community planning standards: “use examples from people doing development and community planning differently; examples that demonstrate there is an economic value to planning and developing differently.  Then leverage on their successes – use what has been successful in the past”; “use other communities that you can learn from, figure out what you like and don’t like”; “exchange ideas with other communities, find out what works and what doesn’t work”; “use examples of local developers looking for higher standards than what is offered through the current OCP”; “as people develop differently and it works, it sets an example”.

Relationship Building

53% of the interviewees identified the benefits of building relationships between the governments in the Comox Valley, as well as with the public.  As one participant stated, “change the political culture to a process that is more inclusive, allows for opportunity to incorporate diverse values”.  Another interviewee saw the “interactive relationship between the planning staff, community and council members” as an opportunity to achieving sustainability in the Comox Valley.  Some participants recognized the need for the political community to “cooperate with each other and have a dialogue about what decisions affect each other” and that “each community in the Valley has something to offer – we need to celebrate this and work together”. 

Increase Sustainability Awareness and Knowledge

Eight participants identified increased knowledge of sustainability issues as a key opportunity for creating change: “educate the council and public regarding sustainability issues, this leads to community knowing what they want and knowing they have control to tell developers what they want”.  Other participants feel it is crucial to educate the public regarding sustainability issues because “if there is a raised level of awareness, the public will expect a higher level of governance to build in sustainability”.  Another participant stated, “interest by the community leads to a ‘bottom-up’ rather than a ‘top-down’ approach;  the public will then define what they want in their community”.  While another participant felt “the community is where the real push for change in community planning is – the power of the people is very strong”. 

Better Use of Planning Tools

41% of interviewees identified planning tools such as  Regional Growth Strategies, OCPs, bylaws and zoning regulations as an opportunity to establish sustainability for the Comox Valley, provided these were updated, or integrated.  While some interviewees were content to build on current planning tools, others thought opportunity lay in different tools such as through an “examination of different incentives and tax structures” or a “community task force – roundtable forum – led by a facilitator to determine what we are and where we are going as a whole valley”. 

Current Growth Patterns

It is interesting to note that 35% of the participants cited current rapid growth as an opportunity for implementing sustainability planning.  As one participant stated, “rapid growth is forcing Comox to examine its future – the pace of development is a concern, it provides an opportunity to look at growth in a broader sense”. High housing costs means “you get better development; people are willing to look at high density and multifamily developments.  High housing costs change the housing form”.  The Comox Valley is “coming to growth 25 years later” than other communities, therefore “[has] communities [to] learn from”.  There is an “opportunity to be more selective… to step back and do development more slowly and be thoughtful about where we want to go”.

Research Analysis

  1. Decision-makers in the Comox Valley may be familiar with the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development, but they lack a deeper understanding of the basic tenets of these concepts, and how these can be incorporated into community planning goals.
  2. Social issues are being overlooked in planning priorities, whereas economic and environmental concerns are perceived as being addressed adequately in the community planning process.
  3. Economic demands played a larger and more influential role than other priorities, such as a long-term vision.
  4. Communication between and within stakeholder organizations is an important component in community planning, but lines of communication are lacking.
  5. Research results show there is a need for better cohesion in bringing the communities of the Comox Valley closer to the challenge of achieving sustainability. 
  6. Community planning offers an excellent base for local decision-makers to address sustainability issues and affect positive change at their level.  It also provides opportunity for communities to find common ground on growth and development concerns, as well as find solutions addressing their various needs.

Strategic Questions

  1. How can local decision-makers inform themselves/be informed about sustainability issues?
  2. What are the most effective social, ecological and economic indicators that would guide local decision-makers towards the goal of sustainability?
  3. How can the knowledge and lessons of one community be best transferred to others for incorporation into their planning goals and initiatives?

Resources and References

Boydell, Tony (2002).  Sustainable communities in Canada: Does one exist? e-Dialogues for sustainable development.

Comox-Strathcoma Regional District (2006), Comox Valley Growth Management Strategy takes Next Step – Press Release dated June, 29th 2006

Comox Valley Economic Development Society (2002). The Village of Cumberland.

Comox Valley Economic Development Society (2006).  Comox Valley Statistical Profile.

Fodor, Eben (1999).  Better not bigger: How to take control of urban growth and improve your community.  Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Hallsmith, Gwendolyn (2003).  The key to sustainable cities: Meeting human needs transforming community systems.  Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Hempel, Lamont C. (1999).  Conceptual and analytical challenges in building sustainable communities. In Danial A. Mazmanian & Michael Kraft (Eds.), Toward sustainable communities: Transition and transformations in environmental policy (pp 43-74). Cambridge, MT: MIT Press. 

James, Sarah & Lahti, Torbjorn (2004).  The natural step for communities: How cities and towns can change to sustainable practices.  Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Moore, Jennie Lynn (1994).  What’s stopping sustainability? Examining the barriers to implementation of Clouds of Change.  Unpublished master’s thesis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Moore, Jennie Lynn (1997).  Inertia and resistance on the path to healthy communities.  In Mark Roseland (Ed.), Eco-city dimensions: Healthy communities, Healthy Planet (pp 167-179), Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

Nozick, Marcia. (1999).  Sustainable development begins at home:  Community solutions to global problems. In John T. Pierce and Ann Dale (Eds.), Communities, Development, and Sustainability Across Canada (pp 3-23). Vancouver: UBC Press.

Roseland, Mark (1998).  Toward sustainable communities: Resources for citizens and their governments.  Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

Sustainable Measures (2005).  What is sustainability, anyway? An introduction to sustainability

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992).  Agenda 21, Chapter 28


There seems to be a general consensus that some level of sustainable community planning is desirable like a slice of apple pie.
Educating the public seems to be the foremost goal of the planning process discussed rather than executing a plan.
Economic and political barriers are substantive to developing an action plan as opposed to an education plan.
An education plan requires less budget as it is more superficial in design and scale.
Public policy development that is long term in scope is considered a financial drain. Politicians gravitate toward shorter term public policy programs.
Pam Mandarino

Hi Pam,

I feel that the terminology used in any goal/idea/objective such as sustainable community development can be either a detriment or advantageous its success at any level. Educational tool or action plan - Is the goal the same? Don't they both want to achieve sustainable community development? Language plays a curial role in how we deliver our ideas and approach them. Thus, would integrating such ideas into an 'Eductional Action Plan for Sustainable Development' elivate the challenge between which of the two is best and which one would communities/individuals and/or government be more attracted to? I feel that sometime language can join similar goals, thus eliviating unnecessary debates and challenges.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Good discussion on language.
The thought that occurred to me today was that the simplest language that many folks might initially interface with is actually some of the most detailed stuff - specific objectives and indicators. I've usually thought that an education plan aimed at increasing literacy around sustainability issues should begin where we usually begin in, say, the development of an EMS - with the broad stuff (such as climate change, biodiversity, etc.), which can get quite conceptual. However, it may be the specific objectives and indicators which actually use language that is most familiar to folks "on the ground", especially when there are legislated/bylaw targets that need to be met. Perhaps this increased eco-literacy will also be built from the ground up, as folks begin to integrate more with their fellow citizens/groups in broader planning initiatives?

Dear Suzanne,
I agree with you that the goal is the same. My lament is that I feel so many initiatives stop at general public education (for those who are interested). Financial resources are never directed in sufficient quantities to implement programs that have been agreed on in community engagement and political processes. In our case study even general knowledge of the issue by decision makers seemed shallow. Only eight respondents stated that sustainability should incoporate three integral pillars: social, environmental and economic. How will this sustainable planning process find a champion? We have diverse perceptions of what a sustainable community looks like and especially how it should include community members of varying economic status. In very beautiful or historic places a recognition of a need for preservation may be widely felt. In suburbs or towns tensions between job development and environment preservation and community planning may come to disagreements quickly.
Pam Mandarino


There are alot of issues that pop up with sustainable community planning initiatives and one of the larger ones that I see in this case study is the community boundary issue. In theory communities should get together to work through issues and solutions and by doing this would ideally cover most of their ground. This idea of playing nice together is often unrealistic. Even though a community is geographically close to another, it may not share the same ideas or beliefs of the other one. Individual communities like to obtain their own identities. Consensus takes time and is often frustrating to those who are sitting at the table.

One of the approaches to achieving partnerships amongst communities is participating in a visioning type of excercise. This would mean sitting down with each other and deciding on what the outcomes of a plan would look like. Once this is achieved, it is easier to work at laying the foundation and building up to the final product.



I also believe that partnership at every level is necessary for any community willing to work on a vision together. Building any up from the ground begins with the willing to listen, however, getting this can be very challenging when parties are often opposed to initial dialogue. Nonetheless, sometime asking to just listen is a great begining point because then everyone is given the opportunity to share their voice. This may then be the seed that begins dialogue - without judgement - but to ask people to speak openly about issues of concern, dreams and goals desired. After such dialogue of listening common themes are identified - people see this on their own - then we get the beginning of a relationship. The attraction is there, cooperation exist by just doing the act of listening, then 'structral coupling' begins - slowly. The attraction is that people begin to approach one another and communication begins. As you say - the vision type of exercie' is key - it's the vision that creates the coupling between people and communities.


Having clarity of vision is important for sustainable planning and implementation. For a community to develop a vision statement and criteria dialogue is needed. Dialogue around vision seems to be an important place to start to create the coupling between people and communities. Creativity and innovation are important for success.
From the case study Comox Valley's population grew 51 % between 1986 and 2004. This amount of growth may make identification with place less likely as many people may be from other countries or places. Local government and local champions need to catalyze a shift toward sustainable development.
Pam M.


One of the major stumbling blocks I can see with trying to development a community plan is the lack of political will. Over 1/2 the participates identified this concern.

Looking at this issue from a political perspective, you may find individuals that tend to be more short sighted, as many of the key positions that influence a process like this will be in power for a period of only a few years (eg. council persons, elected officials). Thus, embarking on a process like this would take substantive effort and the results may not be realized until several years out, perhaps after many of the key people have moved onto different positions. This in conjunction with 'rocking the boat' attitude, reduce the incentive of some individuals to move forward and develop something that will benefit the most over the long term.

Thus, finding the "champions" with in the political area would be key to ensure success. People that have the time, energy and most importantly will to effect change will make all the difference.


Considering the priority of protecting the natural environment a plan for sustainable communities perhaps would focus on minimizing sprawl, controlling land use and increasing access to public transportation. Because of the high cost of making infrastructure decisions a lack of political will may become evident. Community boundaries are also an issue that impacts political will. Communities enjoy preserving their ability to make decisions later about their futures as opposed to committing to agreements with adjacent areas. I have no doubts that planning for sustainability would require a multi-jurisdicitional component. As identified in the case study not everyone interviewed even accepted the notion of sustainability as valid. However, there was a consensus that there was value in having a long term vision for community planning.
There seemed to be a political will for a form of community planning process, however from here onwards things digressed.


After I posted this I reflected that although political will exists, it is primarily the personal will(s) of the individual or group involved. Political will is highly responsive to public demand.
There is a need to engage politicians with a diversity of options. Planning and public policies should challenge pre-existing lock-in to urban sprawl. Sustainable planning issues need to be engaged at on many levels (at all levels of government) and scales.
Pam Mandarino

Hi Pam,
I don't understand to much about the political forum in any issue but my little understanding from what i've observed is that without the 'will' from communities/individual the 'will' of politicians is not there because the issue is not presented. For example, if no one ever complained about pollution it wouldn't be an issue. However, during war time environmental issues are put on the back burner sort of speak and other issues become more pressing for the 'overal social good' - i think. Social capital is preserved or acknowledge depending on the catalsyst that initiates its interests. What pushes the issue is the cause - then we see the impact (regardless of what that might be) and the impact may not be evident for many years - thus leaving us with the perception that nothing is happening or nothing has changed. I think that perception of time, the process of growth and/or change is not only based on the political influence over time, but individual (community) dependent because the investment for social captial has been made at one time in one place.

I sure hope i'm helping with this and my views on social capital aren't too abstract or unclear.
Looking forward to your comments.


Team: I had mentioned today that my understanding of Ecosystem Based Management (which is apparently the name for our team) comes strictly from some work being done in coastal BC over the past decade or so. I’ve therefore pasted some text, adapted from my thesis report, to explain my understanding of this framework. If any of this is useful to the present exercise, please feel free to apply it, and perhaps make a note of this in this thread.

- James.


Ecosystem Based Management (“EBM”) is defined by the Coast Information Team (CIT) as “…an adaptive approach to managing human activities that seeks to ensure the coexistence of healthy, fully functioning ecosystems and human communities. The intent is to maintain those spatial and temporal characteristics of ecosystems such that component species and ecological processes can be sustained, and human well-being supported and improved” (CIT 2004a, p.2).

The “Guiding Principles” of EBM are:
1. “Ecological integrity is maintained
2. Human wellbeing is promoted
3. Cultures, communities, and economies are sustained within the context of healthy ecosystems
4. Aboriginal rights and title are recognized and accommodated
5. The precautionary principle is applied
6. EBM is collaborative
7. People have a fair share of the benefits from the ecosystems in which they live” (CIT 2004b, p.4)

The CIT gives precedence to the maintenance of ecological integrity above all other principles; it CIT makes the following statement about its definition:
[The definition] acknowledges the importance of ecological and social values, but does not require provision of all desired products. Rather, it calls for promotion of human well-being within the context of healthy ecosystems. The definition itself is unclear about the relationship between ecosystems and humans, although the intent statement implies a recognition of ecosystem precedence and some of the listed principles further imply ecosystem precedence. (CIT 2004c, p.12; emphasis added).

The CIT also recommends the use of the following concepts in the planning process:
• “multiple spatial scales
• conservation planning
• socio-economic planning
• risk management
• interactive process of assessment, design, integration, and implementation
• adaptive co-management.” (CIT 2004a, p.5)

The EBM planning process is an ongoing activity, and is intended to occur according to the adaptive co-management cycle:
1. “Assess by defining the management problem clearly in terms of stated objectives and assumptions, not preconceived solutions.
2. Design and integrate by identifying key knowledge and information gaps and developing planning procedures, management activities and monitoring plans to test alternative assumptions.
3. Implement by following the procedures and plans and documenting any changes.
4. Monitor by assessing implementation and the responses of key indicators over appropriate time frames and spatial scales.
5. Evaluate by comparing actual to predicted outcomes and assessing which assumptions are correct.
6. Adjust by revising assumptions and improving planning and management practices.” (CIT 2004b, p.25, emphasis added)


CIT (2004a) Ecosystem-based Management Framework. Coastal Information Team. URL:

CIT (2004b) EBM Planning Handbook. Coastal Information Team. March, 2004. URL:

CIT (2004c) The Scientific Basis of Ecosystem-Based Management. March 2004. URL:


I hesitate to embark on this discussion without first sharing my understanding of social capital. First I perceive capital as a misnomer, as it is widely understood in reference to financial capital. I visualize social capital as a type of complement to a market based allocation. Social capital is of importance to facilitating co-operation among the communities in the planning process. Social capital involves the creation of a network that is capable of distributing norms, values, and preferences. In this process something new may be formed that is greater than the sum of the parts. This concept has nothing in my mind to do with financial capital; and therefore should be designated as something other than capital. Social capital is more complicated than trust building. The inevitable benefit to community planning is that unintended knowledge spillover will occur in the process. Social capital in the civic community may facilitate or inhibit innovative behaviours towards sustainable planning. Good social relations will facilitate the transfer of knowledge whereas bad relations do not. In conclusion there is a desirable type of social capital for thr planning process, that is one that supports innovative planning and co-operation.
Pam Mandarino

Hi Pam, following through of the social capital idea...I can see your point about the confusion. Capitial in the economic sense is defined as durable goods. Whereas, social capital is defined as, "
referring to connections within and between social networks." Nevertheless, I view capital as something that is tangilble yet finite...goods or relationships fall into that catagory for me.

Thinking back to yesterdays class, I think that all 3 types of social capital (bonding, bridging, vertical)would be needed to build a community plan. Identifying and utilizing the networks among civil leaders and key interest groups as well working accoss boundaries with the other communities and perhaps other government (Provincial or Federal)would be key. All I am doing here is applying our class work to the case studies.


Interesting way to look at the terminology of "capitol". In my line of work we refer to it more in the line of capacity. This basically means to us not only having the right people but having enough people to aid in participation.

Some people just don't want to come to the table for a few reasons. Some feel that the issue is not important enough to justify them coming to the table. Some actually feel threatened, that their company or they personally may be attacked if they were to be there. Again, this is my own personal experience.

Relationship building can not be emphasised enough. If trust is not built within the stakeholder community, it is difficult to get projects moving forward. Relationship building takes time though, and I think many groups and organizations get impatient and frustrated when trying to build these necessary relationships. It is important to persist, but to persist cautiously as to not appear pushy.

Hello Stephanie!

You brought interesting points based on your experience. I would like to look at this issue a little further if we consider that these challenges are opportunities for communities to build a partnership. For example, if we think about the global expansion of markets and their ways to be connected by trade we could say that they allow communities to have more in common, to become more connected and to generate trust and non-discrimination regardless some little divergences. That at the same time could lead to develop more inclusive form of social capital across network as bringing social capital. However, here they need to have some in common as similar culture to encourage them to adopt the necessary actions. But actions are still needed at the political level also, combined with a greater awareness by communities of the importance of using their resources efficiently in this case their controlled development.


Hi Idalia,

I particularily liked your comment towards the end on people or stakeholders having something in common to work towards.
In the case of a large group of people who may not necessarily get along, working through visioning excercise can be a good way to get everybody working together. Everyone who has a stake in a community, usually wants what is best. That is the common goal you start with. Once stakeholders realize that they have very similar outcomes to a common problem, it makes it much easier to work towards solving that problem. People don't realize how close they are on many issues until they find that common theme.

Yes, agreed, I have worked with various community groups that have clashed with each other in the past. Much like you indicate, once the groups have gathered around the table, you quickly find out the there are usually overlapping interests or common themes. It is the momentum behind the common themes that serves as a catalyst for change. This is where, in order to have an effective community plan, you need to assemble these tables, and work towards the common goals of the communities.

On another note, I also agree that the blue boxes are not a waste of time. The boxes are not the ultimate prevention soluntion. They are, however, an awareness tool, that can lead to reduction.


Hello Pam!

I think that social capital includes more that I thought initially. It covers different aspects that need to be in consideration in order to enable a society to function effectively (e.g. economics, political,etc). I guess that it is hard to anticipate the particular social norms that could help to provide the right sort of social capital. You mentioned that " Social capital in the civic community may facilitate or inhibit innovative behaviours towards sustainable planning..." However the political authority or government will play a role in this case as well to build a social capital that enables level of trust and make political interventions in social and economic life more efficient. That is more applicable in social democracy due to a support of social democratic policies.



Sustainable Community Development – community planning
- Embrace the ecology of the landscape, not set it apart from it.
What were the needs for the creation of urban sprawls?
History: For approximately 700 years Rome was the first giant city. The pioneering management systems to address their needs were designed to improve their quality of life. Thus, is development always with the intent to improve social needs, the quality of life? Complex systems were and still are required to maintain large areas (ecological footprint) of urban development such as food supplies, water supplies and local waste disposal. Over the centuries large cities/urban development was faced with environmental, social and health concerns because of the difficulties with provision of food, pollution and waste disposal with increasing populations, thus the increase use of natural resources.
Question: How can history help address the issues of sustainable development/sustainable communities that will help integrate social, economic, environmental and spiritual considerations.
Question: What are the needs ‘now’ for urban sprawls? Would knowing what the needs are help with the development of sustainable communities?

I would like to discuss these two questions. Thank you in advance for sharing your ideas.

Great questions Suzanne!

I would like to chew on the first part of the question before I answer, not to say I have an answer :)

Regarding the second question, I think that there are answers out there regarding the issue of urban sprawl. We need to look to countries in Europe and Asia to see that they have come up with very interesting and innovative ways to combat this problem. We may not be able to replicate what they have done, but could certainly take the concepts and apply them to our own needs.

The problem seems to be, and this is strictly my own view, that we are reluctant to make any changes unless there is a problem or a catastrophe that directly threatens our way of life or even life itself. By the time we decide that we should be acting, are we too late to recover? Will public education be enough? Will the consequences resonate with developers and land use planners? Will legislation have to be put into place to facilitate change?

As a species, we don't seem to learn very well from history.



Hello everybody!

First, I want to let you know that I am really blessed and happy to be here. So please, do not judge me wrong.
Here are my thoughts as a MEM student about this issue looking at this in different ways.

I was thinking about the impacts and the different perceptions that could exist between diver cultures and social capital.
As you know Canada is a country with grow diversity of its population... The social capital is crucial for adaptation but sometimes not enough to generate immigrant groups' economic sustainability. Consequently, social capital and trust formation has been on the decrease. That might be due to diver background, cultures that are influenced as well affected by contextual factors such as race and ethnicity.

Here the adaption to another society is the key and hardest part that need to be accomplish by newcomers. Their abilities and motivation as well the reception( as I mentioned in the morning, people, government promises, etc) could be crucial to facilitate the mutual benefit between Canadian society and newcomers.
Many people here think that newcomers could change their way of life, including, ideas, beliefs, values, behavioral patterns, and all that immigrants bring with them when they arrive in their new country. That is not easy and here the respect as Ann mentioned will play a vital role. So if we could adapt to new rules, beliefs, traditions why some groups around the table could not build a relationship as Stephanie mentioned?...the truth as she cited need to be built...
I believe that social trust, which is indispensable for achieving social, economic and political goals could be possible also if it is reinforced by organized collaboration.


Hi Idalia,
I also feel blessed and am happy to be here.
This is a good point you make about different cultures and social capital. Gaining trust and relationships with all people is critical to successful community development. I think most people in Canada are accepting of other cultures it is just that we often do not know very much about some of those other cultures. Of course it is important to learn as much as possible about the other cultures in one's community and country and in particular it is important to respect strong beliefs. The example of using a pub for a meeting was a good one as this can automatically exclude many groups of people.
We have a lot to be gained by including as much diversity as possible in community development. There are many new ideas that may emerge by widening the diversity of the participatory groups.
Increasing knowledge about others leads to better understanding, better understanding leads to better relationships, and beter relationships leads to more sharing of ideas.


After yesterday class with Chris my thoughts were still very much on the issue of transparency and corporations in the oil and gas industry. My first question would be to identify a new meaning of transparency because at the moment I feel there are too many limitations. As a consumer I should be provided with information on how the industry is conducting business in a developing country. From my experience and other sources of knowledge it is often the innocent/the community members who suffer further hunger, disease, violence and ultimately death when foreign companies access resources from such their land/country. The level of corruption and the acceptance of this through business transactions are not made available to the public. For example, when i mentioned the example on community envolvement regarding protest in Nigeria - people often get hurt and/or killed. This is one of the components when attempting to develop and/or establish community development in Nigeria. Because i have been witnessed to such attrocities I ask myself this question everytime i put gas in a car 'who suffered and to what degree for me to be able to access this fuel?' So, my other question is - can we learn from example about the true meaning of sustainability - what are the consequences to the overall human well-being in the process of achieving this goal. Can arriving at sustainability be achieved without violence and killing and by making this information transparent - raising this awareness help how we (from the developed countries) consider our choices more wisely. The perceptual barriers between different worlds and cultures also affect our values, our exposure to knowledge, and ultimately how we make our choices. Thus, if we insiste on these basic steps thought to us yesterday in class by Chris, why can we not or are not able to implement them a bit further into our psychy and ask - where does this really come from and who was it taken from? I feel that this needs to be transparent - and maybe by this being transparent it may minimize 'not in my backyard' syndrom and remember that someone over there - way over on the other side of the ocean is my very close neighbour.

Looking forward to your thoughts.


While this discussion is a good exploration of some of the issues of social capital and sustainable community development, I feel it is moving a little away from the case study as presented. Perhaps we could bring it back...

One aspect of social capital that the case study brings out is the importance of champions. What role might champions (or use other terminology if you wish) play in community planning in particular, social capital in general and what do effect would such individuals have had in Comox?

Please consider and comment on the other recommendations as well.

Hi Chris!

I believe that the champions should represent communities' interest but need to have certain qualities in order to accomplish their difficult task. Even though they need to have certain experience working with community groups on sustainable development if the communities do not recognize them as their community Champion their role should be jeopardized because the current distrust. They need to gain the truth of these communities,care for the local communities to share new ideas and get inspiration from stakeholders. Their activism could be focused on community concerns.
I see the social capital in this case as support of Champions' role, who lead organizations in communities involvement and development. At the end the champions will be recognized for their work and will have the graceful of the communities. However, as I pointed out before if the compositions of the communities is diverse they need to have strong leadership skills to change people mentality and help to manage issues that affect these communities.
Additionally, their performance need to be achieved to make a difference doing things better, keeping these communities focused on existent concerns and purposes. As some people cited " Every action counts" ... communities could be more engaged to make a difference. That is a continuous process of review and action to enable to achieve communities mission and to ensure that individuals are ready to have a better future for everyone.


I'm not sure where to post this point, since a similar issue is spanning several threads:

My thought on champions is that often I don't think they need to be created - I think they need to be found, and perhaps provided with a few more resources. There are super-keener citizens out there who are very knowledgeable about important sustainability issues, even if they are not currently connected vertically to the networks that matter.

In Vancouver, before the current NPA municipal government came in, there was a much greater program of citizen advisory groups that focused on a specific issue and met with key counsellors and staff in government to highlight issues and collaborate on solutions. I truly felt that good ideas were being shared, and heard, and accountability was happening on shorter timescales than the election timescales.

This model offers great value in addressing the problem of lacking political will in 4-year cycle governments - these key citizens aren't going away, and when their voice and connectivity can be amplified I believe it can help provide some continuity of issueship-focus across electoral eras.

To me, a champion is someone who is passionate about something. In the case of the Comox Valley Community Sustainable Development, finding these champions would be key. However, the champions need to be more that passionate about working together towards a common goal (in this case the Community Plan). They also have to be leaders. It is the leadership quality that enables and inspires others. The momentum gained through inspiration and passion can effect change. These leaders would likely have strong network support around them and in the neighbouring communities. Thus, bringing these people to the table would result in a more effective Community Plan. Without these types of people (and their networks) the process would stall. Ann talked about using 'snowballing' (work of mouth) when trying to identify key prople. That could be used to find these people. A


The case study lists short term economic valuation as a barrier, and mentions altering growth patterns as a possible solution.

It will be interesting to see how, and when, BC's new carbon tax begins to affect community decisions with respect to planning and density. Certainly at the initial proposed levels, the carbon tax will not have much effect, other than to begin the long slog of increasing the political feasibility of such a tax. But eventually, as the tax increases, it should begin to have its effect on the behaviour of people - including where they choose to reside, and perhaps therefore how these towns will plan their road infrastructure in the future.


Hi James, You make a good point about the effects of the carbon tax having a future effect. The problem is we keep building communities based on cheap energy and personal transportation. I think we need to increase density to make things like public transportation work and we need to have development permit costs that discourage sprawl. A building permit tax could reflect the true cost of infrastructure and also have the immediate benefit of increasing density (the permit cost could be reduced for certain zones).
And of course we need to make sure the bike lanes are planned for!
Keep the walking and gathering place concept alive. It works.


The case study also mentions that "53% of interviewees felt environmental issues are being adequately addressed".

This relates strongly to the point that Louise Comeau made this week about the unintended effects of our recycling and CFL bulb programs. I expect that these 53% are influenced by their own content feelings that they're contributing when they recycle or use CFL bulbs. These feelings can serve to pacify other uncomfortable feelings of urgency towards ecological issues.

I want to take us to the story that Anne Dale told about the blessing placed upon on us -that we probably know more about environmental issues than most people do - her neighbour asking her to stop - (addressing Anne) you know much more about this than we do.' So, like everything 'just because we know we can doesn't mean we should' thus - just because we know stuff that someone doesn't is not a licence to shove it down anyone else throat or tell them that their practices or beliefs are based on fasle pretences. So, my point is - what the community see's as environmental issues being address is very real to them and not an unconscious way of passifying uncomfortable feelings of urgency towards ecological issues. I still believe that recycling is not a waste of time as stated by Louise Como because i believe that everything needs to start from something and awareness is a good start.

If you go in with the belief that the community with the belief that feelings can serve to pacify other uncomfortable ......issues' where are you leaving room for listening to issues - somomeone belief is a real as it gets, even if it stem from misinformation - thus, making room for this to grow by accepting someones reality is also a start to community planning.



Very good points, and I also have some deep thinking to do about Ann's argument regarding the privilege of our education on certain high-level sustainability issues. I've been thinking about the O'Donahue quote that "the duty of privilege is absolute integrity".

I'm very torn on the recycling issue. I understand that the blue-box program was intended to create awareness, and it has definitely done that. In most urban places I've been to, it is now commonplace to sort recyclables. I also understand that much of this material goes into the landfill, which eases consumer pressure on manufacturers to reduct their material intensity of production.

From one perspective, if the blue box program was intended to create awareness, and many communities now have awareness of this issue - then why not scrap the program?

You say "awareness is a good start", and I agree - but I think the critical awareness that's needed here, ironically, is the awareness that our recyclables are going in the landfill! I don't like to generalize, but I can't count the number of times that I heard from someone - typically a meat eating, car driving, grass watering, weekend sale shopper - that they sleep well knowing that they're doing their part by recycling.

Sorry - I'm tired, and I think we tweaked a nerve here...

So I'm still confused: People have a variety of very real feelings about ecological urgency, and many people feel like addressing this through recycling, and so I understand that you propose that we work with these people by meeting them where their at and helping to identify other more effective solutions to their problems.

I can accept someone's reality as valid, but I can't accept it as "true" in the sense of having the desired effect on the Earth if I know otherwise.

Clearly there is work to be done in connecting issues such as this with issues that matter to people on the ground.

I could use more advice from you all - more thoughts?
- James.

Speaking from the heart is always a good thing to do and never apologize for it. I hear what you are saying and thanks for being honest. As we talked about in class it's always easiest to engage in dialogue with the already converted on all things - and with those who's philosophies on all matters are just like ours. Our job really begins once we step out of our area - whether that is with strangers, but also a true challenge amongst colleagues. I think internal community (office- work colleagues) have their own community engagement (political office also) to do, find a common ground and continue working toward this - then when you find another common ground then you continue toward this as well. The solution is not seperate or complain about your colleague or the other - 'we can't come to an agreement' - is that ever really true? This is a real challenge! As we talked about in Class what is the real issue between A and B, and what does A and B have in common that makes a 'goal' move forward.


Hi guys!
I though that I misunderstood her comments about recycling… Now we have a lot of moulding items such as housewares, appliance parts, etc that need to be recycled or they will go into the landfills and then be there for about 100 years.
What can we do with our surplus items?

Many plastic manufacturing industries in Canada and around the world still have the same process to produce their manufactured goods based on non renewable resources as raw materials or they do not use plastic recycled products due to their characteristic to meet product requirements. To recycle or reprocess them they need special equipments and sometimes the requirements to have them in place are very high that is better “laisse le tomber” So if there are everywhere these products the better thing to do is at least recycle them. It is true that you should not stop here and thinking that “We recycle and we are or will be sustainable”, what I believe that she meant. We should do more every day but I guess that baby steps count here…! It will be wonderful if we could manage waste in the more sustainable ways using the waste management hierarchy in a decreasing order of desirability:
1.Reduce the quantity of waste produced,
2.Reuse of the waste directly,
3.Recycling or material recovering,
4.Energy recovering or incineration
and the last less suitable way
5.Final disposal

Besides that I think that necessity made people to “economize” as developing countries call that or as we call “be sustainable”. For example if I turn off the lights here that is a sustainable thinking but elsewhere is due to lack of fossil or be strange as many individuals classified Cubans. Since 1959 they survived due to that strange behaviour. However, they do not have recycle system as far I know but they used wood utensils, paper bags, cardboard made plates, bags to shopping as Wal-Mart has, etc. So are they sustainable initiatives?



Some thoughts on paper and plastic and community sustainability.

Using paper and wood products rather than plastic has a number of advantages that could easily improve the sustainability of communities.

• Paper is easily recycled and is in demand worldwide.
• Even if paper is not recycled it can be used to produce energy. Paper that is burned is not a net contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, It is economically advantageous to reduce paper in the waste stream.

• Wood products are easily recycled, reused or burned to produce energy.
• Used wood is sometimes worth more money than new (used Douglas fir flooring)
• Used wood is often as good as new wood (or better). It can be re-nailed, cut or re-milled. This is not true for other building materials such as concrete, vinyl, plastics, steel, etc.
• The production of new wood (by a tree) does not require the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used for transport and other energy needs in production.
• Carbon is stored on the wood for as long as the wood is in the use, re-use, or recycle phase.
• When the wood finally can not be reused it can be burned to produce no fossil fuel energy

Clearly, paper and wood products are a good choice for sustainable communities. Less waste to landfills, ease of recycling and greenhouse gas benefits are the key benefits. The Courtney, Comox, Cumberland area could benefit from a paper and wood strategy that takes advantage of this.

In order to fire up peoples awarness, you have to start somewhere. I happen to agree with some of you that the blue box issue isn't a waste of time. Is it going to save the world? Not necessarily, but it did bring awareness to a generation that there might be a problem out there and that they can be part of a solution in some way.
Sometimes these small (or not so small) initiative pique curiosity in some people making them want to become more aware and want to do more. They become interested, they read more, they find more initiatives in their community to take part in.
I think in communities you have to start small. You can't shove change at people. It has to be encouraged rather than enforced.


Good points guys!
As you know the carbon tax is an opportunity to develop alternative energy sources like wind and solar power. Additionally, this tax has together with other taxes been important in the limitation of the CO2 emissions.
In the case study the Retail trade is the main industry followed by Health care and social assistance Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting between others. So they could be target to apply this idea but there are others as private drivers driving alone (79.3%) that we could convince to buy a bike. However, 66,2% of Comox’s population are older than 65. The bike idea is great but how could we encourage the elderly to ride a bike? Some of them could maybe like the idea but their health could be not good enough to go around the block or walk around. I am wondering how feasible could be drive your car or a bus with an early team of bikers? Or are we thinking to have more than half of the road for them and just a little very narrow line for transportation? I like the idea!

Note: The info was based on 2001 census.

Idalia states: "66,2% of Comox’s population are older than 65. The bike idea is great but how could we encourage the elderly to ride a bike? Some of them could maybe like the idea but their health could be not good enough to go around the block or walk around"

Yet these are the same people that, by demanding single story detached bungalows, are largely responsible for the sprawl and transport problems in the first place are they not? Thus making it even harder to get around without a car than it would be anyway. Also given that people wish to move to the area for the advantageous climate and landscape (both threatened by development such as is occurring)- how can these joined dots be communicated?

Wouldn't people's quality of life be better served by a much denser for of development? Access to services would require less travel, more of the attractive elements of landscape would be maintained?

Their quality of life, if measured in terms of access to services, may be served better in a dense area of developement. But, unfortunately, many of us still equate happiness to assets. We want our own piece of land, however small, along with some measure of privacy. This is our culture.

In order to break this mold, one would have to develop dense living spaces with spacacious common areas and services that met the needs of the people. The older generation may more difficult to shift. However, if these sorts of living spaces were built that served the needs of younger families, then, over time this lifestyle would become nomalized and maybe children living in these types communities may be more inclined to retire in them.

Just a thought


In reply to by amclean


Good point! Community interests would be better served with medium density housing with spacious common areas for all to enjoy. There is a need for a paradigm shift in thinking here away from the ideal being a single family dwelling. With high housing prices in the lower mainland the reality of single family housing without basement or main floor suites is already shifting.
Long term planning should continue to focus towards medium density housing made more attractive and desirable with well planned common enjoyment areas (mini dog-parks, child play areas, picnic stations).
Rising energy prices as well as housing prices are helping to shift realities in the lower mainland. Costs of heating is substantially reduced in aparments and townhouses compared to stand alone houses. Problems in planning are not ones of technology rather they are ones of mindsets and governance. There are high leverage opportunities for change to be taken advantage of in promoting sustainable community planning (housing cost, energy prices, traffic congestion). Momentum for change in urban and suburban lifestyles seems inevitable.



Suzanne you brought this point and that made me think in different ways (as usually, I guess:)).
All of us know that it is necessary learning for sustainability, learn to share and systematic understand the motivation of needs to addressing the challenges to sustainability.
First, I could not remember when I saw or read about examples of sustainability from developing countries but David Suzuki. He was in Cuba and he mentioned many things ongoing in its communities that were classified as Sustainable. My point here is our mentally (Western) are influenced and focused on other “civilized countries”. We only things about this terminology and including U.K, U.S.A., Germany and/or any other developed country. So “now we are trying to do many things that other poor countries do to “survive” but cannot see as “sustainable…” that was part of my friend’s comment about sustainability.

Some keys for true sustainability would be: shared vision (now, the environment is seen as a pressing issue), consensus on need, be part of developing new strategies, tactics, and implementation plans as suggest Doppelt (2003 b) and cultural transformation within the community without the government’s intervention. Successful cultural change is achieved once the majority begins to value the natural environment and its’ beliefs and behaviours are consistent with those values (Doppelt, 2003 a).

Cuba is a good example as I mentioned before that achieved, a sustainable transportation system in response to external pressures. Do we have these pressures as well or for us are they called sustainability indices? I think that they are sort of pressures too that we need to resolve in order to preserve the planet for future generations.

Note: In 1999 the energy consumption by sector represented only 11% and in 2000 Cuba’s annual motor gasoline consumption was 45 litres per person per year compared to 219 litres for the rest of Caribbean and 179 litres for the World (International Energy Agency). Remarkable economic, social and environmental advantages were noted.

Doppelt, Bob 2003 a. Leading change toward sustainability: A change-management guide for business, government and civil society.

Doppelt, Bob 2003 b. Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders. The Systems Thinker. Vol 14. Number 5, 2003.


Hi Team,

I have selected sections of the case study that caught my attention, but also address some of the issues raised in the e-dialogue. I will quote directly from the case study and make my comments.

“This increase in population has caused an increase in development and the expansion of urban boundaries.”
Is it possible to control the growth of a city? If yes why
and if no why? Whatever the answer is it might be a good
start for government and/or developers to base future (long-
term planning) of any city on this answer. I don’t see this
mentioned in the case study as a topic of discussion.

“Both the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox are continuing to develop within their own current boundaries, while also continuing to look for new land for future urban development.”

If feel that even in the words chosen for to describe this
case study is influential toward changing behaviour toward
long-term planning and considering sustainability. For
example, ‘develop within their current boundaries’ – can we
not develop while considering transboundary impact ( and not
see ‘our space/place’ with boundaries), and remember our
cumulative impact as well. Also ‘while also to look for new’ –
does development always include new land? Whatever the answer
is to this as well it should consider what’s currently working
in Comox and Courtenay, build on this, and think of how to
improve on what’s available before using further resources. I
don’t see this being considered in the case study either.
Considering what I would title ‘Transboundary Development
through Integration’ and ‘What is useable now without taking
more or displacing people, and disrupting land’ might also
address the following concerns as to the question of
alternatives: “As a result of continued rapid growth, the three municipalities and the Regional District are presented with an important challenge; the local governments of the Comox Valley endorse urban sprawl, or they can seek alternatives that advance a long-term vision that equally integrates economic, social and ecological factors....In order to address the need for more integrated planning, local governments are exploring new approaches to community planning.”

Again, I haven’t seen anything in the case study that defines
integrated planning other than something requiring new stuff,
new place, new space – why not see integrated planning as
integrating what’s working now – and having well defined in
dialogues and communities engagements/meetings?

The case study identifies the barriers to implementing sustainability in community planning for the Comox Valley, which are economic, governance, and perceptive barriers. However, I don’t see the list of opportunities for implementing sustainability in community planning to coincide with the barriers. The opportunities listed are 1) Learning from Examples 2) Relationship Building 3) Increase Sustainability Knowledge and Awareness 4) Better Use of 5) Planning Tools, and 6) Current Growth Patterns. Could the opportunities for implementing sustainability in community planning not come from addressing positively driven questions – questions that connect ideas and find deeper insight to barriers, and questions that create forward movement that are connected to the barriers. For example, What needs immediate economic attention to achieve the necessary funding in order to meet immediate objectives. Otherwise, the opportunities that are currently listened need further revision to identify how these address the issues of economic, governance, and perceptive – there still seems too much disconnect between barriers and solutions.


Excellent points - I'm really starting to appreciate the need to plan solutions in a manner that is carefully directed at overcoming barriers, or alternatively taking advantage of opportunities, as opposed to the usual toolbox...

I'm also starting to appreciate the sheer magnitude of land that is being converted to intensive human use (quite obvious by driving anywhere near the Comox Valley), and this isn't often used as an indicator. Ecosystem-based management, if implemented properly, can help humans to co-exist with ecosystems, but even that requires careful setting aside of high-ecological-priority lands. Aside from parks, which are imposed from a provincial level, I don't see this discussion much at the municipal/regional level. I feel that ecological boundaries could be given the same emphasis as political boundaries.

- James.


Hi Team,

Comments from two of the critical success factors listed in the case study.

Critical Success Factors

Promote a Systems Thinking Approach

Promoting a systems thinking approach may require more than incorporating the three pillars of sustainability. Instead can we direct our attention to ‘Given the current situation what is taking shape that already incorporate a holistic approach in our community? From here build on what exist – for it to be a community there must already be a form of systems thinking approach being used – but maybe not recognized as such. This may also help identify groups (including government & planners) using such philosophy but who are not yet identified. This information will begin to help identify potential leaders within communities to help grow within this new approach of community thinking.

Find a Champion
Working with what already exist as mentioned above may help identify one and/or many community champion. This group may have a different set of beliefs that could help with the current situation. The champion may also be someone who’s unable to fully make his/her voice heard. For example, someone representing wildlife (the champion is the animal) but using only the human voice to state their case. The champion may also be an organization. Staring with one person as a champion is a good idea but making working toward a common community goal that the community is the ‘champion’ is even better – but I wonder if this is really possible. I guess my question would be ‘what are assumptions or beliefs do we hold for a champion?’ Should they be the same for each community? I would think not, thus – know thy community before knowing they needs.



Hello guys!

Based again on Statistic Canada I found that the residents of Comox Valley do not use much their public transportation (less than 3%). Their workplace and transportation represents around 2% compared to almost 80% who used their vehicles as I mentioned before. So I imagine that if their access to the public transportation will be higher that will encourage the community to leave the car at home. Regarding the access to the services certainly that will help to diminish the GHG and persuade people even to walk; especially because the composition of the population is more than 65. The total number of private households by household size is for two persons 38,9%. Here we can see the culture of living alone in big space. As I cited in class the culture is very strong and in order to share the land or space we need as Cuban say “born again”. Unfortunately, the established people won’t be easy to convince to go to a complex or an apartment. However, as you mentioned the tariff of living will stimulate “the change”. Contrarily what we see in the real life, there is more propaganda to buy a house and yet in certain places as Montreal the first house does not have down payment as a result individuals could buy cheap and reach their dreams: “Live alone with a big yard and nobody that could disturb them around” Personally, I never use my backyard maybe because in Ontario is very cold and sometimes as now the snow is accumulated all over the winter. But I am always wondering about the front of the houses. What do we need a big front land? That could be use to build something else. I guess that should be enough for gardener people do have a little land to plant and split the rest with the community.


I would like to take examples of other communities as Sweden where its communities were designed as eco-municipalities. They decided from the beginning how they could accomplish their goals to change their process to sustainable practices. Municipal employees and citizens participated in the process. They decided what particular strategies best suited their municipalities and communities. The implementers were on board being as helpers in the process to create strategies. Here the implementers were their champions and they facilitated the creation of those strategies from the beginning. "that was a democratic process, bottom -up approach, combined with education, vision, and overarching goals for sustainabilty" (James, 2004). Here the policies were changed as well the practices and tasks of municipal government and community planning. So again we can not convince individuals to change their culture and traditions if there are not institutional transformation such as official policies that will guaranty the achievement of the change proposals.In my opinion the thoughts or facts that we are a "democratic society" prevent new innovative strategies for change, comprehensive plans linked to concrete actions are trucked. People think but but.. always so they do not even try to propose something different. As today I mentioned the taxi bicycle (bicitaxi in Spanish) to use as an optional transportation on campus. In this way we could enjoy the wonderful view during the residence without contribute to GHG. Additionally, as we saw today this morning during our presentations there are several functional areas that need to be coordinated and systematically work together to successful adoption of changes.



Community leaders will more successful towards the goal of sustainability if the let their communities be involved in the process to develop more sustainable attitudes bringing all the actors when propose a radical change. Here we need to use an across-the-board approach. If they understand better the cause of their problems that could make it easier to build up new strategies. Again the social part need to be motivated at all levels and positioned to push the change. Even though if we accomplish this part it is necessary to have an official side as political one to embark on a path toward sustainability.
We as human being need something that keep us online.

As Anne brought up today, increasing plural society is something that needs to be addressed when considering planning. People with different ethnic backgrounds may have different values and needs that should be incorporated into a Community Plan. These values should be articulated, and, in my opintion, would form a important part of the community plan...non-discriminatory. But how could you engage individuals from different ethnic in a collaboative could you find them?