` Columbia Journal- Doing It the Smart Way
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Doing It the Smart Way
By Marco Procaccini

If you believe that economic development means having to sacrifice democracy, communities and the environment, guess again. A new organization is setting out to prove that wrong, and already has had some success in its short two-year history.

Smartgrowth BC is encouraging working people and local communities to take the lead in building sustainable economies that can provide long-term benefit and opportunity, says Shane Simpson, the group's communications rep. "We are looking to get people involved in addressing issues of housing, poverty, transportation and urban sprawl to building liveable communities," he said. ""Local involvement is the core to the success of any sustainable economic strategy."

Simpson says the organization was formed through a joint effort by the Westcoast Environmental Law Association and the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria due to growing concerns over chronic economic problems plaguing communities across the province. "Poverty, crime, traffic and car use and bio-diversity issues have an economic factor," he said. "Smartgrowth was set up in response to the need for coordinated efforts on advocacy and education around sustainable development."

The group has so far assessment workshops for local residents and organizations in various regions around the province to identify problems in their communities and to develop strategies for solutions.

It has also been recruiting partners in the regional districts to find support for these plans. "We have been working with academics, social planners and others to work on sustainability strategies," Simpson said, adding that this work is beginning to pay off. "Two years ago, urban sprawl was not seen as a public issue. Now it is much more the focus of public debate." He also says that liveability forums, where people can prioritize what community concerns and develop strategies to address them with the goal of creating safer and more prosperous communities and improving the quality of life for everyone, are a main activity for Smartgrowth.

Another main activity is tapping into the expertise of local activist groups, such as tenants rights, housing and public transit advocacy groups, to develop plans for these sectors. Simpson says Smartgrowth, and the sustainable development in general, is facing serious challenges due to the policies of the current provincial government.

One of the group's plans is to work with rural communities to maintain productive farmland in the wake of the government's move to dismantle the Agricultural Land Reserve, considered a hallmark in protecting farmland from commercial development. "Some of the changes (to the ALR) devolve authority to local governments," Simpson said. "Providing more local control is fine. But many of these municipalities are tapped for money and could be pressured to change their land use rules and turn land over to development in order to raise their tax base."

He also says the group is preparing for the much anticipated, yet repeatedly delayed, community charter from the provincial government. "We intend to ensure that it is beneficial to the community," he said. "There has been discussion about giving more power to local governments. However, if it is used by the province to dump more responsibilities and costs on to municipalities, then it will be a bad thing."

The Columbia Journal
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