Whistler's Integrated Approach
The Resort Municipality of Whistler has taken action on climate change primarily through a comprehensive and integrated community planning initiative called the Whistler2020 Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. It has implemented strategies to reduce sprawl and create more compact and complete communities, while taking direct action on climate change. Indeed, Whistler can take pride in being the first local government in Canada to reach the fifth and final milestone of the Partners for Climate Protection program.
Whistler 2020 is premised on The Natural Step, a science and systems-based definition of sustainability, and is informed by substantial, ongoing community engagement. Climate-friendly initiatives developed in conjunction with Whistler2020 include a Green Building Policy and a Whistler Green Building Standards, as well as the creation of an urban containment boundary and infill housing guidelines. Another important step is Whistler’s commitment to the Partners for Climate Protection program, which requires not only the completion of detailed energy and GHG emission inventories, but also the implementation of a local action plan and a monitoring and reporting process.
Engagement and Governance
Many of the Whistler’s innovative policies and initiatives have grown out of the Whistler2020 Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. The focus of Whistler2020 was to develop a vision of Whistler embracing sustainability and its impact on 16 different strategy areas, including: built environment, transportation, economy, and housing affordability. The Whistler2020 process is facilitated by local government, but is primarily driven by community task forces, major organizations, and the business community.
Objectives that emerge from the Whistler2020 planning process act as a sustainability lens for Council and Staff in their consideration of land use and building approvals, annual budgeting process, purchasing policy and guidelines, request for proposals, and other municipal business. Moreover, the municipal organization was restructured in early 2007 according to four of the five priority areas within Whistler2020: community life, visitor experience, protecting the environment and economic viability (partnering for success, the fifth priority, overarches all departments). All municipal staff receive peer-to-peer training to apply Whistler2020 in their daily decisions and activities.
The commitment to Whistler2020 has resulted in the implementation of a variety of policies, guidelines, and bylaws, which are designed to encourage a compact development pattern and intensify areas where development exists.
One of the most significant Whistler2020 policies has been an urban containment boundary (UCB) (G1) approach to development. Through the use of in-fill and small subdivision, Whistler2020 envisions growth being accommodated by existing neighbourhoods, helping to increase density and reduce the distance that residents will need to commute. These initiatives have been integrated into the Whistler2020 Built Environment, Transportation, and Resident Housing Strategies.
Whistler 2020’s Monitoring Program tracks and reports the status and progress toward the Whistler2020 Vision through Core Indicators and Strategy Indicators. This web-based monitoring program tracks progress, informs decision-making, and ensures accountability while educating and engaging community members and stakeholders. Progress is reported at least annually for most indicators.
Barriers and Breakthroughs
In working towards compact and green development, ensuring housing affordability for residents is a constant challenge. To meet the objective of providing affordable housing for residents, Whistler has committed to ensuring that 75 percent of local employees live within the municipality.
A major breakthrough for the land use intensification policy was the location of the Athletes Village. Originally, the Village was to be located outside of the main corridor of development in Whistler. However, the decision to locate the Village within an urban containment boundary confirmed Whistler’s commitment to reducing GHG emissions from auto transportation.
As part of Whistler2020’s Monitoring Program, Whistler keeps detailed performance measures. Of special note, in 2007, GHG emissions decreased 4 percent on a three year average.
Municipal staff have commented on the importance of good public process to the success of Whistler2020. Ted Battison, Manager of Sustainability Initiatives, says that a key to Whistler2020 has been “keeping the community as the face of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan.
Consultants and advisors have a role to play, but Comprehensive Sustainability Planning is an intensely intimate task that needs to be lead by the community itself. However, getting local buy-in was not necessarily an easy task. Battison believed there could have been more social marketing locally, noting that the average resident had little understanding of Whistler2020 and the opportunities for community involvement.