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Hamilton-Wentworth, Canada
The Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth is a community of great geographic, social and economic diversity. Approximately 50 percent of the region's land area is prime agricultural, with 10 percent designated as environmentally sensitive. The Niagara Escarpment, which runs through the center of the region's urban area, has been designated by the United Nations as an internationally significant biosphere.

The regional municipality comprises two cities, three towns and a township. Governed by a chair and a twenty-seven member council, the municipality provides a base for directing urban development, providing infrastructure and delivering region-wide services.
The region is experiencing steady population growth and as a result, agricultural land is being lost to low-density suburban sprawl which is accompanied by increase in air pollution levels. This changing form of urban development presents many challenges.

The Sustainable Community Initiative began in the late 1980s after the regional council had used a multi-stakeholder approach for two new planning projects, the Hamilton Harbor Remedial Action Plan and the Chairman's Task Force on Affordable Housing. These initiatives proved that organizations with divergent views and opinions could work together to address community concerns.

In 1989 the Planning and Development Department identified sustainable development as a guiding philosophy for addressing concerns of the Sustainable Community Initiative. This philosophy emphasized public participation and a balance between economic, social and environmental concerns.

The philosophy of sustainable development led to the formation of a citizen's task force in June 1990, called the Chairman's Task Force on Sustainable Development. It was given a two-year mandate to complete six key tasks including the creation of a community vision to guide future development of the Official Plan and Economic Strategy, which in turn would guide decisions of the regional council.

The task force, consisting of eighteen members and with the chair of the Economic Development and Planning Committee at its head, was set up as a multi-stakeholder roundtable. In order to ensure broad representation, members were selected based on their experience and background in various sectors including agriculture, business and labor. All financing and resources for the task force came from the region and therefore the mandate was very structured and integrated into the decision-making process of the regional council.

At an initial meeting, task force members decided that decisions would be consensus based. Monthly meetings were held, open to the public and the media.

Community-Based Issue Analysis
One of the key objectives of the task force was to increase public awareness of sustainable development and to gather feedback on potential goals, objectives and policies for the region. The public-outreach programmes had nine goals under the categories of education, citizen input and quality.

In the autumn of 1990 the task force initiated the first three parts of the public-participation strategy, which included a broad awareness campaign using local print, radio and television media; information booths at local shopping malls and other locations; and the distribution of 150,000 copies of the first Task Force Newsletter. The campaign informed the community about the task force and the opportunities for public involvement.

Seven community workshops (Town Hall Meetings), designed to identify issues and values to guide the work of the task force, were also held. Approximately 160 people participated in the sessions. Those who did not wish to participate in the meetings contributed their ideas in writing, or phoned the Ideas Telephone Line. A series of focus groups discussed issues similar to those debated at the town hall meetings. One hundred and fifty people participated, including many traditionally under-represented in municipal affairs.

The task force reviewed and analyzed all material and reached a consensus on seven major community issues as well as nine commonly-expressed community values. These values are best expressed as directives for the type of community people wanted, for example, the preservation and enhancement of community character and identity.

The results of this stage of the Task Force mandate were summarized and presented in two reports.

Issue Assessment
The next phase for the task force focused on the development of a community vision based on sustainable development and reflecting the issues identified in the first phase. A key element of this stage was the preparation of eleven discussion papers on topics ranging from demographic trends and social adjustment to environment and health. The papers focused on the relationship of past trends to the concept of sustainability.

Eight citizen Vision Working Groups were formed. Each was to examine and develop a vision statement for one topic. Research ranged from reviewing the summary reports to distributing questionnaires designed to identify stakeholders. The results of the issues identified during this phase were advertised in the second Task Force Newsletter and a television presentation.

A one-day community forum attended by 250 people was held at the completion of this work to allow public review and comment on the draft reports. The working groups then revised and finalized their reports. A short vision statement was developed after almost six months of deliberation and presented to the community as the first draft of VISION 2020: The Sustainable Region.

The statement was included in the third Task Force Newsletter distributed in January 1992. People were invited to submit written comments or attend a community meeting on March 25, 1992. Over fifty written submissions were received by the task force and sixty-five people attended the community meeting with eight verbal presentations, an additional three written submissions and an open discussion.

The revised vision statement was presented on June 16, 1992, to the regional council which unanimously adopted the following recommendation:

That VISION 2020, as recommended by the Regional Chairman's Task Force on Sustainable Development, be adopted as the basis for Regional decision-making in Hamilton-Wentworth, including such policy documents as the Hamilton-Wentworth Official Plan, the Regional Economic Strategy and the capital budget process.

Action Planning
The final phase of the task force focused on identifying the decisions and actions required to make VISION 2020 a reality.

Work on identifying recommendations for action began in early 1992 and involved eight teams of volunteers organized around specific topic areas. These implementation teams reported to the task force on the decisions and actions needed for reaching the goals of VISION 2020. Almost 75 people participated in the implementation teams.

The teams completed their reports that summer, and a second all-day community workshop was held on September 19, 1992. Two hundred people attended and reviewed the reports in small workshop settings.

The task force used the summary report from the community workshop, the final reports of the implementation teams, and material gathered in earlier phases to develop its final reports on realizing VISION 2020.

The task force recognized that not enough time remained in its mandate to develop a detailed action plan defining responsibilities, time frames and financial requirements. A decision was made to present two reports, as guidelines for action, to the regional council. The first report outlined specific goals that the community should set to achieve the vision. The second was essentially a summary of the types of decisions and actions required to implement the goals and vision statement.

On January 25, 1993, an estimated 300 people gathered at the Hamilton Convention Centre to see the task force present its final report to the Region's Economic Development and Planning Committee. The reports were adopted by this committee and by the regional council a month later.

When the final reports were presented, the regional government held an open house. Fifteen exhibits showed the actions already initiated to implement the sustainability goals. The task force proposed that this be an annual event, expanded to include all community groups and agencies.

Implementation and Monitoring
Former members of the task force, with the assistance of project staff, created a citizen's organization called "Citizens for a Sustainable Community." It still exists as an organization, however, it has never been able to attract the attention of the community or build on its original membership of fifty individuals. Its major achievement has been a leadership training programme for youth.

Regional government had greater success in its effort to implement the vision statement. After approving the vision statement and implementation recommendations, the regional council organized senior staff from every department into a Working Group on Sustainable Development. Its mandate is to facilitate the implementation of the vision statement into municipal operations.

The working group has identified, recommended, assisted and guided a number of initiatives that integrate sustainability and the vision goals into the municipality's decision-making process. The two most significant have been the Sustainable Community Decision Making Guide, and efforts to revise the capital budget development process. In 1994, the regional council directed staff to use the Sustainable Community Decision Making Guide in the evaluation of proposed and existing policies, programmes and projects. Now, reports presented to regional council must identify the possible sustainable community implications of the recommended action.

In June 1996, regional council mandated the staff working group to revise decision-making procedures to incorporate the concept of sustainability in the areas of grant application, candidate selection for citizen advisory committees, tendering and purchasing policies, and internal audit procedures.

The second major effort of regional council integrated the goals of VISION 2020 into long-range planning and policy documents. Reflecting one of the original goals of the project, the region's official plan was completely revised and renamed "Towards a Sustainable Region." Adopted by the regional council on June 7, 1994, the official plan incorporates almost 100 of the 400 detailed recommendations made in VISION 2020. If the regional council chooses to make a decision that contradicts the policies stated in the official plan, the citizens of the community have the opportunity to appeal that decision to a higher level.

Evaluation and Feedback
A research team working with the results from the various forms of public input eventually developed a final set of twenty-nine indicators. These indicators were presented to the regional council in the summer of 1996 and were approved for use in monitoring community progress in relation to the goals of VISION 2020. The twenty-nine indicators were presented in a report-card format at the third annual VISION 2020 Sustainable Community Day in October 1996.

Outcomes of the MCP
The overriding goal of the region's VISION 2020 Sustainable Community Initiative is: "to integrate the concept of sustainable development into the decision making of individuals, businesses, community groups and government agencies by building an ethic of sustainability in all of our citizens."
The results of a telephone survey suggest some success in building awareness about sustainable development. Almost one-quarter of the respondents claimed to have at least heard about VISION 2020 or sustainable development.

Between 1990 and 1997, the major local newspaper has published seventy-five articles that are either about or make reference to VISION 2020. An increasing number of articles discuss a specific issue (such as planning for bicycles, protection of natural areas, or improving water quality) in the context of VISION 2020, sustainable development, or Hamilton-Wentworth's role as a LA 21 Model Community.

Lessons Learned from the LA 21 Planning Process

  • Increasing community understanding of the process is critical to success, and should be undertaken through a variety of media. In Hamilton-Wentworth, a broad public-participation strategy using a variety of media was adopted to encourage participation from all sectors of society. However, these efforts could have been more effective had the regional municipality spent more time on community awareness and understanding before establishing a task force.
  • A community stakeholder group can assist in promoting implementation and building support in the community.
  • The establishment of a sustainability ethic must realistically reflect current value systems. Although the municipality can change its own modes of operation and try to establish itself in a leadership role, it does not have the resources to create fundamental change in the attitudes and values of its people.

A significant positive outcome of the LA 21 process for Hamilton-Wentworth is that the lessons learned from the VISION 2020 initiative are being used in the development of other initiatives.