An excerpt from The Western Planner article “Boom – Bust – Repeat. How an innovative new planning methodology takes aim at breaking this cycle for Western communities” by Marc Diemer (DHM) and Brian Wilkerson – October 2014 Issue
The Western regional identity is as varied and storied as its landscape, shaped through a history of rapid and transformational change which includes alternating periods of “boom” and “bust”.
Today, the Western region’s metro areas and remote communities alike are seeking economic diversity as a more sustainable strategy, hoping the next ‘bust’ in the cycle never comes. Often, development projects that win favor are those with near-term economic gains, while their long-term impacts are not considered. Some remote communities have turned to gaming, and others are hopeful that increased oil & gas development will be the economic boost their community needs. This “trickle-down” approach to planning seeks to maximize economic success and assumes that benefits to other community values and goals will follow, but this is not always the case
In order to build community resilience and avoid cyclical economic busts, long-range planning decisions must address issues including: water resources, energy development, natural resources management, health care service, and population growth. By placing non-economic goals first, this allows the community to empirically determine which programs will help them achieve those goals.
This new methodology aims to improve decision making. Planners and city managers can explore alternate development scenarios and investment choices, which could range from different projects to entirely different development approaches or philosophies. By only prioritizing short and mid-term economic success, leaders may be inadvertently putting their communities at risk for an economic bust and ignoring broader community needs. With this new approach, a thorough understanding of the impact of all projects and initiatives on all community goals and values is uncovered, thereby improving decision making.
The primary benefit of this model over traditional planning approaches is the insight it provides decision makers to the impacts and trade-offs and the powerful understanding of the long-term impacts on both economic and non-economic goals.
Sustainability need not be just an aspirational buzzword in the West. We can achieve enduring and resilient communities by using improved decision-making approaches that dutifully consider the impact of all interventions on a full range of community goals and values. The West’s frontier mythology of independence and self-reliance can be celebrated and live on, but far better to leave the economic boom and bust part of the story in the past.