Local governments have a responsibility for undertaking community planning to ensure the community’s needs are met in the present and future in areas ranging from land use, housing, transportation and economic development (among others). In recent years, municipalities around Canada have been required to undertake integrated community sustainability planning in order to be eligible for gas tax funding. However, many local governments question the purpose and value of developing an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) when they are required by legislation to develop and update their Official Community Plans (OCP – BC, Yukon), Municipal Development Plans (AB), Official Plan (ON) or similar plans in other provinces. So what is the purpose and benefits of doing an ICSP and how does it affect the OCP/MDP/OP?

While an OCP (and equivalent) is a regulatory document and needs to address local government responsibilities for land use and development matters, a typical OCP does not need to address issues that are increasingly becoming important that community members expect local governments to address. These issues range from social well-being to heritage conservation and tourism development. However, if we think about our communities as made up of inter-connected systems, it makes sense to plan our downtown neighbourhood taking heritage preservation or social well-being into consideration.

More and more, local governments are undertaking more comprehensive OCPs that take into account the broad systems within the community. Furthermore, communities are articulating longer-term directions within OCPs that include planning for long-term success and sustainability. Creating that long-term vision and plan for the community is what an ICSP is about. An ICSP is an inspirational vision and plan for the future of the community that should guide all decision-making. It takes the community’s values and hopes and makes sure that policies and plans (including the OCP) help the community move towards that vision.

Official Community Plan

An ICSP is also based on ensuring the community is sustainable over the long term, meeting the needs of citizens today while making sure that citizens’ (including our grandchildren) needs will be met in the future too. Communities can undertake an ICSP process before an OCP update, or expand an OCP update process to include a long-term vision, a broader scope and policy directions. The following table outlines three ways in which communities can develop their long-term vision, and then update and align their OCP in order to implement that vision.


Regardless of how your ICSP is developed, creating a long-range vision and plan for a more sustainable and successful community may be one of the most important public engagement initiatives undertaken by local government. Aligning your OCP with your ICSP is potentially the most effective way that you can enshrine your community’s vision and aspirations into a legal document that will continue to guide planning and decision-making towards that vision.

By Cheeying Ho

Learn more about our approach and how we can help your municipality. Contact Cheeying Ho 604-388-8421 for a chat.