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Creating a Sustainable Community: Hamilton-Wentworth's VISION 2020

Keyword: Community participation & Urban Governance


Under the umbrella of sustainable development, the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, Canada has implemented various actions which are changing the nature of the community. Formally started in 1990, the initiative has seen thousands of citizens become involved in the development of a community vision and actions for making that vision a reality. The community has been empowered with the responsibility for taking Hamilton-Wentworth down the trail to sustainability. Partnerships are being developed between governmnet, industry and community organizations. Hamilton-Wentworth's Sustainable Community Initiatiive is an example of how a community visioning exercise can empower the citizens with the ability and desire to make the fundamental changes required for sustainability.


Under the broad umbrella of sustainable development, the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth has implemented various actions which are changing the role and method of business for local government. A new focus has been developed which is moving the Region towards decisions that will help create a sustainable community.

The sustainable community initiative started in 1989, when the Region's management team decided that mechanisms were needed to better coordinate budget decisions with Regional Government policy goals and objectives. At the same time the Region's Official Plan for land use and its Economic Strategy needed to be reviewed and questions were being raised about what direction or philosophy would guide these comprehensive reviews.

Research prepared by the Planning and Development Department recommended that a philosophy which incorporated the many concerns, issues, and trends facing the community would provide a framework for decision making. Sustainable development, with its emphasis on environmental, social, and economic issues, and on development that meets the needs of th epresent without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their owne needs, was identified as that philosophy.

Formally initiated in 1990, Hamilton-Wentworth's sustainable development project has been an ongoing effort for over five years. This project has thousands of citizens involved in a variety of activities leading to the development of a community vision, a broad strategy for making the vision a reality, and implementation of those recommended actions.

In October 1993, our efforts, both past and planned, were recognized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) when they designated the Region as a the Canadian model community under the Local Agenda 21 Model Community Program. Hamilton-Wentworth is now one of only fourteen communities around the world which serve as role models for creating a sustainable community. More recently our activities were recognized by Environment Canada when it selected Hamilton-Wentworth to receive, in the local government category, the 1994 Canadian Environmental Achievement Award and again in 1995 when the Region was one of nineteen communitites from around the world profiled at the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

Over the last five years, Hamilton-Wentworth has taken some creative steps towards changing its mode of operation. Sustainable development and the goals of the community vision have become the basis for change in decision making.


The sustainable community initiative was formally launched in June 1990, when Regional Council created a citizens Task Force on Sustainable Development. This group was mandated by Council to explore, in cooperation with its fellow citizens, the concept of sustainable development as a basis for review of all regional policy initiatives. Over two and half years, this group met with over 1,000 fellow citizens and developed a community vision called, "VISION 2020: The Sustainable Region", and a strategy for making the vision a reality.

Briefly the public outreach process involved:

Town Hall Meetings - seven meetings were held where citizens contributed their thoughts on which issues need to be addressed and which values should guide the work of the Task Force;

Focus Group Discussions - people normally overlooked in the decision making process, such as, people residing in emergency shelters, seniors, and the non-english speaking community contributed their thoughts in small group discussions;

Vision Working Groups - citizen groups assigned the task of developing a report outlining visionary directions based on the principles of sustainable development in an assigned topic area;

Implementation Teams - citizen gourps assigned the task of developing a report identifying the decisions and actions necessary to make an assigned section of the vision statement a reality;

Two Community Forums - all day events where citizens had the opportunity to comment on the reports of working groups and implementation teams and submit their thoughts for the future and ideas for action; and

Final Presentation - the Task Forcer presented its final report to Regional Council as part of a larger day designed to formally end the mandate of the Task Force, and initiate the process of implementation.

Other activities included a media campaign, newsletters distributed to every household, television programs, staff seminars, and exhibits in major shopping malls.

In February 1993, the Task Force formally completed its mandate when it presented Regional Council with its three final reports:

VISION 2020: The Sustainable Region;
Directions for Creating a Sustainable Region; and
Detailed Strategies and Actions for Creating a Sustainable Region.

Regional Council adopted these reports as a guide to all future decision making. Reflecting this decision a number of actions have occurred, in order to bring the decision making process in line with the future vision of Hamilton-Wentworth.

The first major action has been the revision or development of long range planning and policy documents. On June 7, 1994 Regional Council adopted a new Official Plan for land use called, "Towards a Sustainable Region". A key policy document in the Region's efforts to implement VISION 2020, the new Official Plan, incorporates directly over 100 of the 400 detailed recommendations made in teh VISION 2020 reports. On November 1, 1994 Regional Council adopted the Renaissance report as its strategic plan for long term economic development. The primary goal of the new economic strategy is: to incorporate sustainable development principles into community economic development activities. Two other major long range documents, the Transportation Review and the Pollution Prevention and Management Plan are currently being developed to reflect the goals of the vision statement. These actions will help ensure that decisions made about the long term future of our community reflect the directions of VISION 2020.

The second major activity, has been the actions of the Staff Working Group on Sustainable Development. This group, compromised of senior staff from all departments, was mandated by Regional Council to develop mechanisms for formally integrating the principles of sustainable development and the vision statement into the process for development of the capital budget and departmental work programs. On August 16, 1994 Regional Council directed staff to use the "Sustainable Community Decision Making Guide" as developed by the Staff Working Group, as a tool, to assist them in the evaluation of all proposed and existing policies, programs, and projects.

The third major activity revolves around specific projects being undertaken by the community to implement the detailed recommendations made by the Task Force. There are a number of actions ranging from the development of a bicycle commuter network to the construction of combined sewer overflow reservoirs. The Staff Working Group is currently preparing a comprehensive review, outlining, the current status on implementation of the 400 detailed recommendations made in the VISION 2020 reports.

The final major activity, centres on measuring Hamilton-Wentworth's progress in relation to the goals of VISION 2020. Two major actions are the Sustainable Community Indicator's Project and the Annual Sustainable Community Day.

On November 2, 3, and 4, 1995 the community held its second annual VISION 2020 Sustainable Community Day. Attended by over 2,000 people, the three days involved the participation of 120 local community groups and businesses, over 300 volunteers, seminars and tours, over 40 hands-on learning activities, live theatre, and other events. The event cost almost $40,000 (Can) of which 75% was paid for by local industry and grants. The Sustainable Community Day is organized by a 35 member volunteer Citizens Steering Committee. The purpose of the Day is provide a forum for the community to examine its progress against the goals of VISION 2020 and set priorities for the coming year.

The Sustainable Community Indicators Project was started in the Fall of 1994. Through an extensive community consultation process a set of 35 indicators was developed for monitoring our progress in relation to VISION 2020. The indicators were presented at the Sustainable Community Day on November 4, 1995. These indicators will form the base for the presentation of a report card at the end of every year assessing Hamilton-Wentworth's journey towards sustainability.

The intent of these two projects is to develop mechanisms for measuring our decisions and action and create some accountability between these decisions and the goals of the community vision. The process will see the community help set priorities for the coming year which will then be linked to the development of the Region's and hopefully other agencies' budgets and work programs. Throught this process it is hoped that the decision making process of government, in particular the budget process, will become more open and understandable to people in the community.


Through its sustainable community initiative, Hamilton-Wentworth has started the process towards change in the operation and purpose of Regional Government. The community visioning process has created a focus or goal against which we can measure all decisions made be government, business, community groups, and individuals. The community, as a whole, has been given the opportunity to be part of the decision making process and consquently influence the future of our community.

Although there is still a long way to go before Hamilton-Wentworth becomes the sustainable community of VISION 2020, a solid foundation has been created through the visioning process. From this foundation, structural change and changes in decision making are occurring and will continue to occur throughout Regional Government and the community.


Commitment: When the project started in 1990, the clear commitment of some Regional Councillors and members of the Region's Management Team, particulary the Chief Administrative Officer and the Regional Chairman, encouraged the involvement of many other members of the community.

Clear Purpose: When the project started in 1990, it was defined as a guide for the development of the Region's Official Plan and Economic Strategy. This gave the project a purpose and focus, which helped the community understand what the project was about and what would be the final product.

Empowerment: There must be a willingness on the part of Regional Staff and Council to allow the community to become directly involved in the decision making process. The process must include components where the community is allowed to take direct responsibility for initiating and implementing projects.

Patience: Within the community, there is a wide range of abilities and knowledge. Time is required to bring everyone's understanding to a common level. At many times it has been difficult for the 'experts' to not take control of the process and direct it in a manner that they feel is appropriate. If community responsibility and ownership is to be developed, it is imperative that the members of the community investigate and develop their own solutions.

Flexibility: The financial and staffing resources available to the project must be able to accomodate changes. In our case, the seven people working in the Strategic Planning Division have at one time or another been needed to support and work on activities related to the project. the flexibility built into the work program for the Strategic Planning Diviision and the range of staff expertise is a major reason for the success of the project.

Consensus: The Chairman's Task Force on Sustainable Development consisted of representatives from a variety of sectors in the community. These included environmental groups, industry, health organizations, neighbourhood associations, social service providers, agriculture and small business. All decisions made by the Task Force were made using a consensus approach, thereby ensuring that all views were considered and addressed before the preparation of VISION 2020. This approach of building consensus and hopefully partnerships between different sectors has become central to all VISION 2020 projects.

Monitoring and Reporting: In order to maintain community support, there must be some mechanism available to the community to both report on its own efforts and learn about the efforts of others. The community must be involved in an annual review of the vision statement and any decision making process where priorities are set for implementing the vision statement. Our approach is the Indicators project and the Annual VISION 2020 Sustainable Community Day described earlier in this case study.


12,000 water conservation kits sold to local residents.

Over 3,500 hectares of land (3% of the Region) in Hamilton-Wentworth is protected through ownership or management by local Conservation Authorities.

Construction of four combined sewer overflow storage tanks, resulting in people being able to swim in the west end of Hamilton Harbour for the first time in over 50 years.

Over 20 kilometres of bicycle lanes and pathways have been constructed in a community where none existed prior to 1994.

Installation of 150 bicycle racks in 1994 where none existed before.

40 of the 210 public transit buses operating on natural gas.

In the last five years, over 300,000 trees have been planted by the local Conservation Authority.

5,000 homes and businesses will be audited every year for energy and water consumption and waste production by the Hamilton-Wentworth Green Venture.

30,000 tonnes of waste is diverted every year through the Region's recycling and waste reduction programs.

Over 40,000 households in Hamilton-Wentworth have a backyard compost unit.

Over 2,000 citizens attended the Second Annual VISION 2020 Sustainable Community Day in 1995. Over 75% of the $40,000 cost of the Day came from local industry and grants.

Unknown number of jobs created in the last four years by a growing environmental business sector.

Opening in Hamilton-Wentworth of the Greater Hamilton Technology Enterprise Centre (GHTEC), the Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement (OCETA) and the Great Lakes Pollution Prevention Centre (GLPPC).


Since completion of VISION 2020 in Februray 1993, a number of activities have occurred to make the vision statement a reality for Hamilton-Wentworth. These include the development of new policies, specific projects, and development of new partnerships between government, the community , and local industry.

1) Regional Official Plan - Adopted on June 7, 1994 the Official Plan for Land Use Planning incorporates over 100 of the 400 detailed recommendations made in the Vision 2020 reports. It contains, among other things, policies to guide decision making towards creating a more compact and diverse urban form, preserving agricultural lands, and protecting environmentally significant natural areas.

2) Transportation Review - Set to be formally approved in January, 1996, the Review is linked to the new Official Plan and sets out the actions and policies for achieving the sustainable transportation goals of VISION 2020.

3) Pollution Prevention Project - A training program for Regional Staff which gets them involved in developing an action plan for the Region to incorporate pollution prevention into its daily operations.

4) Hamilton-Wentworth Green Venture - Started in the summer of 1995, this community partnership involves homeowners in a voluntary free audit of their home for energy and water consumption and waste production.

5) Greenlands Project - A partnership between a number of organizations, this project will lead to the development of a system of protected and connected natural areas for the entire Region.

6) Bicycle Commuter Project - In almost two years, this project has resulted in the construction of over 20 kilometres of bicycle lanes, placement of over 150 bicycle racks, educational and promotional activities, and construction of other facilities to encourage cycling as an everyday mode of transportation.

7) Sustainable Community Day - Organized by a volunteer Citizens' Steering Committee, the second Annual Day was attended by over 2,000 citizens, involved over 120 community groups and businesses and over 300 volunteers. The Day serves as a time for assessing progress in relation to the goals of VISION 2020 and as a forum for increasing awareness about the concept of sustainable development.

8) Sustainable Community Indicators - Over 30 indicators have been developed using a community consultation technique developed by a partnership group involving McMaster University, the Region, and the Health of the Public Project. These indicators will be monitored and an Annual Report Card assessing our community's progress towards VISION 2020 presented at the end of every year.

9) Sustainable Community Decision Making Guide - A tool developed to assist Regional Staff in the evaluation of all proposed and existing policies, programmes, and projects.

10) Young Citizens for a Sustainable Future - A partnership project between the Region, community groups, the School Boards, and McMaster University, this program takes secondary school students through a three day leadership training session on local sustainable community issues and initiatives.

There are many other initiatives and projects which are implementing the directions of VISION 2020. The ones described above are the major initiatives started by Regional Council since completion of the vision statement.


The following is the Sustainability Indicators recently developed for use in preparing our Annual Community VISION 2020 Report Card.

1) Total Length of Hiking Trails

2) Percentage of Significant Natural Areas Protected.

3) Amount of Suspended Solids Discharged into Hamilton Harbour.

4) Total Water Consumption - all uses.

5) Number of 'Beach Open for Swimming' Days.

6) Amount of Road Salt Used on Regional Roads (rural) .

7) Number of Good or Very Good Air Quality Days per year.

8) Number of Complaints about Air Quality per Year.

9) Space Used at Landfill Sites Annually.

10) Toxic Substances - indicator still in development.

11) Per Capita Residential Electricity Consumption.

12) Office Vacancy Rate for Downtown Hamilton.

13) Percentage of Listed Heritage Sites in Region Designated.

14) Annual Transit Ridership Per Capita.

15) Total Length of Bicycle Routes.

16) Percentage of Regional Population Receiving General Welfare Assistance.

17) Low Birth Weight Babies as a Percentage of Total Births.

18) Annual Applications for Affordable Housing.

19) Hospitalization Rate for Falls by Persons Aged 65+ years.

20) Library Items Borrowed by Juveniles.

21) Crime Rates for Robbery and Domestic Violence.

22) Voter Turnout for Municipal Elections.

23) Applicants Referred by the Volunteer Centre.

24) Percentage of Labour Force Aged 15+ with Post-Secondary Education.

25) Rate of Meaningful Employment

26) Annual Acreage in Field Crops in Hamilton-Wentworth.

27) Annual Approvals for Rezoning from Agricultural to Urban Land Uses.

28) Number of Farms Participating in Environmental Farm Plan Program.

Every project and program has its own set of indicators used to assess its impact and success. The indicators listed above are used to provide a general assessment of the community as a whole and whether the combined community efforts are resulting in the Region moving towards or away from VISION 2020.


    Region of Hamilton-Wentworth
    119 King St. West, 14th Floor
    L8N 3T4


    Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, Canada
    119 King St. West, 14th Floor
    L8N 3T4


    Local Industry
    Bekkering, Mark
    119 King St. West, 14th Floor
    L8N 3T4

    Community Organizations
    Pearce, Bill
    119 King St. West, 14th Floor
    L8N 3T4
    (905)546-4178 , Fax: 546-4364

    Individual Citizens
    Cooke, Terry - Regional Chairman
    119 King St. West, 15th Floor
    L8N 3T4

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