Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The kinds of goals we need for Bowen

There is a wonderful thread going on at Bowen Island Ourselves which Paul Rickett started by talking about the OCP process. It has morphed into a discussion about green house gas reduction, development and population growth which is very rich.

I added a few thoughts on Paul's initial musings that our OCP needed mesurable and attainable goals. Here are my thoughts:

It seems like this thread has concentrated largely on GHG and development, but I wanted to say something about the measurables. I think with our plan we have a chance to revisit how we measure things and discover new community indicators that would give us a sense of how we are doing without making us slaves to short term numbers. One of the dangers with choosing measurable goals (and even designing things that are "attainable") is that we fail to shoot high enough to change for fear that we will not be able to measure what we are doing, or that perhaps we might even fail. The GHG discussion is a good case in point: what is attainable or even measurable here? The concern I have is that specific indices and numbers work well for small things that are controllable, but a lot of what happens in a community is complex behaviour, even emergent behaviour, and not subject to control or measurement or management. In fact the "character" of a community can be neither controlled or measured, but it is as important a quality as any. b This is where "idealistic" goals as you call them come into play: they give us something to strive for. We could adopt self-sufficiency as a principle of our community, and commit to seeing that roll out in a number of ways, including trying for 20% food self sufficiency, 50% energy self-sufficiency and 100% water self-sufficiency within 20 years. We already have the water goal achieved! The goal would be to keep it there and not require water to be trucked from the mainland in the 20 year time period. Adopting self-sufficiency as a community principle gives us something to strive for and something to gauge our efforts against. Are we making decisions that take us in that direction or away from it? If we refuse to zone any more farmland, are we compromising our ability to feed ourselves, and lower GHGs in the process? So I am interested in finding community indicators that let us know that we are on the right path. For instance, a demand for more affordable housing in some ways is a good indicator of economic diversity: you don't have that indicator in exclusively rich gated communities. If that demand were to disappear, I would worry about the economic diversity of Bowen. So while it remains a pressing need, to me it is an indicator of a rich community populated by people who are trying to make a living in unorthodox ways. Increased demand for affordable housing is not a goal we want to pursue, but it tells us something about who we are. There are some very interesting community dashboards at Integral City which, despite its name, is an organization that is doing work with applicability to many types of communities. I have been using some of their work in a project I have been doing to measure the impact of Native public radio stations on Native communities in the US, and they have piloted some of their dashboards using Bowen Island indicators. It might be worthwhile bringing Marilyn Hamilton to Bowen for an evening conversation about different ways to measure community goals and host a conversation about what indicators make sense in this round of OCP discussions. What do you think?