Friday, June 10, 2011

Sustainable municipal planning

Alberta, Canada published a guidebook to municipal sustainability planning.

And it's great. Just really good stuff, and language that I love. I love good language.

For..."community sustainability, there are two important components that need to be 

i)… a shared understanding of a successful future in which a strong social 
fabric weaves through communities ensuring that fundamental human needs 
are met, a vibrant cultural scene breeds creativity to drive innovation, 
ecological integrity is protected and there is a strong economy; and 
ii) … a plan of action that consists of practical investments* that make 
economic sense today and that serve as steps towards the shared 
understanding of a successful future that is environmentally, socially, and 
culturally sustainable.

* This is not simply a matter of whether the investment has a positive return on investment in the 
short-term.  Initiatives should also take into account how to avoid long-term risks, e.g. resulting
from trends such as increasing energy and waste disposal costs, stricter legislation or increasing
stakeholder demands"

I have to keep myself from just copying and pasting the entire thing here, but here are some great definitions of concepts important to municipal sustainability planning.

Common Elements of Successful MSPs 
Some common elements of successful Municipal Sustainability Plans include:  

Political will to commit resources: Having the political will to implement the plan 
accompanied by an adequate commitment of financial and personnel resources.  
Although the process is meant to engage the broader community, its success or failure 
will rest on the leadership and support of Council to the process.  This leadership will be 
called upon throughout the process to provide guidance and steer the process in case 
problems arise. 

Vision-Led Process:  A desired vision of a successful outcome that generates energy 
and enthusiasm and gives purpose and meaning to inspire the contribution of time and 

Backcasting:  Backcasting means starting first with the desired outcome in mind and 
then identifying present-day actions to move in the direction of that outcome.  The 
outcome, or “vision”, should also be consistent with sustainability principles to ensure
that the basis for our economy and livelihood, i.e. natural systems and the materials and 
services they provide, are protected for future generations to access.
Picking the low-hanging fruit:  Low-hanging fruit are those actions that garner early 
agreement, are obtainable in the short-run, and can demonstrate success to generate 
momentum. In a community, this can be something as basic as getting a group together 
to clean up a visible vacant lot.  

Democratic process:  At the heart of Municipal Sustainability Planning is a commitment 
to a bottom-up participatory change process that engages citizens in designing the 
specific steps to move toward the desired vision. Using a democratic, participatory process to involve the “implementers”, i.e. partner organizations who will be responsible for implementing parts of the plan, is key to successful adoption and implementation of actions toward change.  

Leading from the side:  This describes a particular leadership style taken by process 
leaders that allows planning and action plans to emerge from the process, rather than 
imposing predetermined strategies or projects. Leadership from the side provides clear 
guidelines, then elicits ideas from participants for how to apply them.  

Taking a systems approach:  The approach to change is comprehensive and integrated, 
aimed at bringing about change throughout the range of planning areas. A conventional, 
less effective approach addresses issues on a one-by-one basis.  

Broad involvement:  A wide representation of community participants takes part both in 
the creation of a positive vision and in the steps toward achieving that vision. Broad 
involvement of citizens and implementers helps assure that change will happen, since 
those responsible for making it happen are involved in shaping the proposals from their 
beginning, again the idea of “involving the implementers”. 

Keeping it going:  Planning in cycles, testing early action proposals, ongoing education 
and training programs, monitoring the effectiveness of actions with indicators, all guided 
by the vision and sustainability principles, help institutionalize change and keep adopted 
practices going over time.

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