The Story of Williams Lake, British Columbia: Imagine our Future

The Opportunity

In the fall of 2009, Williams Lake, B.C.  launched Imagine Our Future, an initiative to develop a long-term vision of a sustainable Williams Lake.  Needing support to create something bold and highly engaging of citizens, they sought out organizations to help them develop the plan.

The Response

The Natural Step, Whistler’s Sustainability Center, and Smart Growth B.C. impressed Williams Lake with a proposal which highlighted an innovative engagement strategy and a scientific, rigorous approach to implementing an ICSP. Through this partnership, an award-winning ICSP was developed in co-operation with the Town of Williams Lake.

The Process

With the support of Williams Lake Council, an integrated staff planning team set off into the community to capture what the town’s citizens envisioned as a healthy, vibrant, Williams Lake. Through a range of events, including kitchen table dialogues, world-café-style community dialogues, music concerts, staff and council engagements and more, The Natural Step and Williams Lake were able to capture a community vision for 2030. Community members contributed their wisdom and expertise to the project and identified innovative solutions to address current social, cultural, economic, environmental, and governance challenges while leaving a positive legacy for future generations.

Once citizens’ ideas were collected, the planning team was able to establish a synthesized input guide for community partners entitled “Williams Lake: Imagine Our Future”. Included in the guide was a community sustainability declaration which articulated sustainability for the community and was adopted by Council as a decision making policy, as well as strategic priority related to the Town’s sustainability vision/declaration. For each strategic priority area, three components were developed: descriptions of success, descriptions of the current reality, and transition strategies on how to close the gap between Williams Lake’s current reality and desired future.

Shortly after the guide was published, Council, the integrated staff planning team, and members of the community began positioning the community to align with the vision they laid out for themselves using short term and long term planning actions. The community began with the review of its Official Community Plan and is still actively exploring and acting upon a number of initiatives to implement their ICSP Framework, including:

  • Establishing an easily‐ and publicly‐accessible monitoring system of key performance indicators to report and evaluate progress.
  • Establishing shared leadership with community partners to take leadership of different strategic priority areas.
  • Creating a municipal decision‐making framework for capital projects and land use decisions that evaluates decisions using the ICSP Framework as a lens.

In recognition of their sustainability leadership, the City of Williams Lake was honoured with the 2010 Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Sustainable Community Planning Award for its Integrated Community Sustainability Planning Framework.

The Feedback

It’s really exciting because the process is more community-based than I think a lot of people ever expected it would be. This process is about actually taking it out into parks, into people’s homes, into really unique environments where people are far more likely to feel they can contribute.”

-Adrienne Wasik, Williams Lake Resident

Learn more about The Natural Step Canada’s Service Path for Sustainable Communities and how we can help your community develop a bold sustainability vision, strategy, and action plan. Please contact us to discuss your unique needs.

Written by: Julia Dupuis