Across Canada, the challenges faced by communities continue as a result of an economy trying to rebound to its pre-recession comfort level. When municipal budgets are tight and the pros and cons of spending every dollar are more carefully weighed, often the non-core functions of local governments tend to be considered ‘discretionary’, and taken out of the budget. ‘Sustainability planning’ can be among these discretionary items left off of the municipal ledger.

However, going without a long-term vision and plan for the community during challenging times is like being caught in a snowstorm on a mountain without a compass. Having shared long-term goals and maintaining direction toward the desired future articulated by the community is even more important during these times. Without a shared vision, opposing and urgent forces can pull you off course and before you know it you’re stuck and far from the direction set prior to the storm.

If local governments are responsible for the long-term health, resilience and success of our communities, sustainability planning cannot be considered a ‘nice-to-do’ work task – it must be core to the long-term success of a community. How communities undertake sustainability planning can be adapted to different situations, however. The important thing is that communities are intentional about identifying and articulating a compelling shared vision for the future, so that success for the community is achieved in the short- and long-term, and the strategies and actions to get there are prioritized.

That compelling vision can inspire and motivate the community to work collaboratively and use resources more effectively to create the future they want to see, and to realize their hopes and dreams. The vision should speak to everyone in the community, creating a call for action, and a reason for acting. It should be embedded in government documents and plans, including regulatory land use planning documents, corporate strategic plans, as well as community business plans. We have seen some very innovative strategies across Canada for engaging the community in creating a long-term vision, and incorporating it into regulatory documents, and are excited to be working with a number of communities to use these leading practices.

Looking back over 2012, we are impressed with communities we’ve been fortunate to have worked with as they choose to create inspiring visions with their communities despite current economic challenges. In doing so, they are leading the way toward a brighter future and more easily weathering the storms of today.

We look forward to continuing to work with our existing community partners and clients, as well as to new ones across Canada.

We wish you all a happy holiday season, and a wonderful new year, full of inspiration and success.