I attended this year’s Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) annual convention and learned more about what “sustainable” really means.  It’s a great buzz word, something that falls within “planning-speak” but I believe its principles and ideas are worthwhile.  

From small rural to large urban communities and from planners and politicians to developers and environmentalists, sustainability is an integral goal to building and maintaining our communities.   But for me, the clearest definition of sustainability emerged at last week’s UBCM Convention, provided by keynote speaker David Crombie, former Toronto Mayor and federal MP.  

First, Mr. Crombie advocates for a future that requires four main priorities:

  • producing more brains than more bricks;
  • adopting an eco-system approach to human settlement (everything is connected to everything else);
  • building the public realm (services, workforce, economic development and social peace); and,
  • working for sustainability = creating and maintaining that delicate interdependence between ecology, economy and community.

Or as Mr. Crombie seems to suggest, sustainability is maintaining “the [delicate] ballet between nature and exploitation” and in the 21st Century, we should apply it to everything we do in public services and community development.  Mr. Crombie argues that to achieve sustainability as a community, region and nation, we must learn to “re-imagine, re-invent and re-invest” our public services.

Mr. Crombie concluded his presentation with a more personal view about aging and sustainability. Self-described as “genetically cheerful,” he admits to being hesitant about singling out age groups and prefers a different approach, one that “treats individuals” and defines life as a continuum.  He does not seem to like the current trend that assumes aging is a problem but, rather, believes that we should be vital to the end of our lives.  Mr. Crombie is definitely vital at 75 and has both an enlightened and enlightening approach to what it means to be “humanly” sustainable.