Refresh And Do Not Abandon The Sustainability Vision At This Time

Hi Everyone,

In this message I briefly expand on the three main reasons I gave in my previous message for recommending that the School focus, in the present tumultuous times, on refreshing its sustainability vision as opposed to jumping to some new concept and word(s).

1. I fear much might be lost by the School in abandoning its sustainability focus at a time when UBC and many others around the world have taken it up extensively, no matter how much the word and its use are problematic.

  • The School will need to have very good arguments and communicate them extremely well if it decides to abandon its sustainability focus at a time when UBC has made huge public commitments to it in its strategic plans, re-organization and budgets.
  • Some people have argued that because sustainability has been taken up so widely around the world, it is time for SCARP to look over the horizon and, as it did under Bill Rees 20 years ago, take up a new vision that can once again put the School and ultimately UBC on the next cutting edge. I fully support this sentiment but am at a loss to know at this point what the replacement should be.
  • SCARP is presently struggling to cope with many urgent issues in resolving its future institutional home, searching for a new Director, hiring new faculty, and re-shaping its masters and doctoral programs to make them stronger, all at a time when resources are being reduced. This is the time to refresh the sustainability vision in ways that make it more powerful and inspiring, while committing to an exploration of more substantial changes in vision and programming at the earliest possibility.

2. I don’t see alternative big ideas that obviously offer more potential than refining the sustainability focus and those that have been suggested suffer from similar challenges of ambiguous meaning and implications.

  • If the sustainability word is erased from the Vision and Mission statements then other words have to be found that substitute effectively for both its ends and means connotations.
  • None of the words that I have heard so far (e.g. resilience, adaptation) escape the challenges of ambiguity in terms of meaning and implications without substantial elaboration. And even then there inevitably remains significant ambiguity as this is in their nature (Lily Yumagulova’s recent PhD Comp paper on the meaning and implications of competing definitions and theories of resilience was for me a sobering illustration of the challenging realities).
  • In the near term, I would encourage a strategy of adding and revising words to the existing sustainability focused Vision and Mission statements along with a complete re-write of the elaborating texts to produce a single statement that communicates clearly the meaning and implications of the new wordings.
  • Reflecting on my experience with our Vision and Mission statements in all kinds of forums and with varied audiences, but in particular in extensively exploring these issues with students in Omnibus during recent years, I would offer the following suggestions for adding words to the Vision statement:

Strong environmental, social and economic sustainability through the democratization of planning.

The addition of these four words, for me, provide the basis for elaborating on SCARP’s sustainability vision in ways that make explicit our deep concern for and commitment to progressive, comprehensive and integrated planning that supports urgent action on the succession of shock waves being triggered by global change. For me, this represents a significant and substantial reduction in ambiguity and an enhanced commitment. The Mission statement could be left as presently stated or slightly revised to echo the changes in the Vision statement.

3. I suspect the challenge is much more to do with getting buy-in and commitment to ensuring the focus is put into practice vigorously and on a consistent and continuing basis by SCARP faculty and students, however it is articulated in words.

  • I added the qualifying clause to Omnibus – Becoming a Good Sustainability Planning Practitioner – to make clear to incoming students that the course was designed to introduce them to the School’s distinctive sustainability focus in becoming a planning practitioner and to bring out that being a good professional requires a career-long commitment to reflective practice. (see course outline and content).
  • I found that ambiguity in these words and the diverse ways in which they are used created extraordinarily powerful teaching opportunities around questions for each student to consider, relating to the meaning and implications of words such as planning, practitioner, good and sustainability. (see course outline and content).
  • Whatever the words now chosen to express the School’s Vision and Mission, I would encourage that
    • there always be a course in first term, first year that introduces incoming students to SCARP’s Vision and Mission and how this drives the School’s program of planning education, research and engagement;
    • each year there should be at least one occasion when all the faculty and students come together to explore the ways in which the Vision and Mission might be refreshed (e.g. this could be a special part of the annual student symposium each spring); and
    • ways be found for holding faculty and students accountable to all SCARP stakeholders in living upto the adopted Vision and Mission (e.g. the PSA could take a lead responsibility for this; it could be a focal point of the annual meeting with PIBC Council and planning practitioners; and it would of necessity become a part of the self-assessment using output measures that are now expected in the PAB and CIP re-accreditation documentation every five years).

This email builds on previous messages I have sent to the School listserv and SMC members addressing various issues relating to SCARP’s future, many of which reference documents from the past that are not necessarily remembered nor often easily found. I have therefore created a sub-page on my Pracademic Cruiser web site that provides easy access to the preceding series of emails along with links to earlier documents that are relevant. It is entitled SCARP Futuring.


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