COLUMN: Cultural development drives growth

Cultural development is a new area of focus for many municipalities due to a shift in the assumptions of what drives local economies.

Cultural development is a new area of focus for many Canadian municipalities due largely to a basic shift in the assumptions of what drives local economies.

The traditional growth model is for a municipality to try to attract industrial development with tax breaks or lax regulations.

Today, however, it’s acknowledged this approach leads to a race to the bottom and ultimately results in the deterioration of a community’s amenities and infrastructure.

Companies consider many factors when determining where to locate and usually they have to balance several criteria. Quality of life and quality of place — the unique characteristics that define a community and make it attractive — are often the deciding factor.

The correlation between economic growth and cultural development is well documented.

Recent retirees, young families, entrepreneurs, skilled knowledge workers, and creative people of all sorts want to live and work in a place that offers a full range of amenities and cultural assets.

They are attracted to a vibrant arts scene, a bustling downtown, public art, green space, and a respect for local heritage. This, in turn, is what attracts investment.

This is an important distinction: in a globalized, knowledge-based economy, it is business that follows people rather than people who follow business.

More new housing is currently being built in Summerland than at any time in the past five years. But all that new development will have little positive impact on the community if all those new homeowners choose to shop out of town, spend their leisure hours out of town, and send their kids to school out town.

A community thrives when its people are socially and physically active in the community, when they attend community events and volunteer their time for local causes, when they shop locally, and even start their own local businesses.

Summerland needs more community-minded residents and to get them we need to invest in local culture.

In April 2015, Council appointed a task force of a dozen community members and two council representatives to develop a Cultural Plan that understood the values and perspectives of the community.

Through an intensive year-long public consultation process that garnered more than 2,300 comments, people told us they valued Summerland’s quality of life, the community’s character, its agricultural base, local arts, and local history and heritage.

From these commonly held values, the task force developed a Cultural Plan with five strategic directions:

o Reflect Summerland’s cultural values in municipal decisions and projects

o Establish an administrative framework to support the arts, heritage and culture

o Enhance public spaces and cultural places

o Build on community strengths and assets

o Connect the community

Council adopted the Plan on Sept. 12. It will now be incorporated into the municipality’s Official Community Plan (OCP) to provide it the same status as other municipal plans used for informing policy and planning decisions.

Our first-ever official Cultural Plan will guide local cultural development well into the future, helping to make Summerland a more economically robust and vibrant community.

Doug Holmes is a Summerland councillor. The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect council policy.