RMI’s Economic Renewal Program

I have been a student of Small Town Economics for some time, ever since I ran the Town of Leinster, became a Councillor on the Shire of Leonora, sat on the Board of the Goldfields Esperance Development Commission and in 1997 spent time on a Committee for the State Planning Strategy.

The State Planning Strategy provided a strategic guide for land use planning through to the year 2029, Western Australia’s bicentenary.  The Strategy was aimed at developing a land use planning system to help the State achieve a number of key goals.  These include generating wealth, conserving and enhancing the environment, and building vibrant and safe communities for the enjoyment of this and subsequent generations of Western Australians.

The Western Australian Planning Commission Act 1985 Section 18(1)(b) requires the Commission to take a lead in preparing a planning strategy for the State as a basis for coordinating and promoting regional land use planning and land development, and for guiding government departments and instrumentalities and local governments on those matters.

This is an update to my thinking and a revisit of those aspects of my life that fascinate me.  I recognise totally that this comes from The Rocky Mountain Institute, http://www.rmi.org/Communities and I had the privilege of use some of these ideas in Leonora in developing their five year strategic plan.

An Introduction

For many years, economic development has meant a process where business-at-any-cost was preached by a small elite, where civic discord replaced civil discussion, where families made more money but had less to spend, where residents learned to lock their doors, where communities changed from the unique to commonplace and a thousand towns came to look alike.  But now, scores of communities are saying no to old, worn-out approaches and embracing a new kind of development that respects the community and the environment.  Created collaboratively by people from all walks of community life, this new approach is called sustainable community economic development.

Sustainable development stands in sharp contrast to conventional economic development strategies. It:

  •  Redefines prosperity, weighing community values, quality of life, and the environment alongside economic considerations.
  • Seeks true development, in the sense of getting better, instead of expansion, which is merely getting bigger.
  • Advocates the long-term stewardship of community resources, ensuring that present actions don’t erode the basis for future prosperity.
  • Pursues self-reliance and a more democratic approach to decision-making, representing community-wide interests over those of an elite few.
  • Stresses      diversity, resilience, and a conviction that many small efforts work      better than a single one-size-fits-all solution.

You may be saying to yourself, “Sure, sustainable development sounds like a fine idea, but how do I translate it into something useful for my own community?” This series of blogs answers that question.  It introduces a practical way to achieve sustainability, called Economic Renewal.  Created by Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based research and educational foundation, Economic Renewal (ER) has been successfully implemented in dozens of communities throughout North America.

Although Economic Renewal refers to a particular process for bringing about sustainable development at the community level, it’s based on set of guiding principles and tools that many communities are already using, even if they don’t use the term sustainable.  The principles, described in the first section of this blog, will help guide you in identifying specific projects to strengthen your community and its economy.  The tools, explored in the second section, can be applied in every stage and aspect of your economic development effort.  Together, they offer new perspectives on old problems, revealing opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked.  The third section of the blog gives an overview of the eight-step ER process, which is designed to get practical results in communities experiencing real-life problems.  Based on the concept of collaborative decision-making, the process is an approach to community problem-solving that meaningfully involves all different kinds of people, many of whom seldom talk to one another.  With ER, they’re no longer passive observers who can only briefly comment at some long, dreary public meeting.  Instead, they become active participants who may even lead fun and creative problem-solving sessions.

The fourth and fifth sections will help you determine when to start the process in your community and suggest the kinds of results you can expect when you do so.


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