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Un-locking the potential for change: community mobilization for sustainable community development

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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Canadian communities are being forced to integrate planning for global issues (e.g. climate change and trade agreements) into systems that are already struggling with increased infrastructure costs, dwindling natural resources, and land-use development conflicts. Many are turning to sustainable community developme nt as a means of integrating planning priorities, improving public participation, leveraging resources, and generating creative and practical solutions to shared economic, environmental, and social problems. However, despite integrating sustainable development principles into their planning and decision-making processes, few have succeeded in translating high-level sustainability goals and objectives into tangible projects in their communities. Why are some communities more successful at bridging the planning – implementation gap than others? This dissertation research develops a framework for mobilization for sustainable community development consisting of actors, motivations, and decision-making processes to explore the role of community mobilization in award winning sustainability case studies in urban (Toronto and Surrey), rural (Craik, Sk.) and First Nations (Rolling River, MB) contexts. The findings from the research stress the importance of linking institution al capacity and community-based processes in order to bridge the gap between planning and implementation. Linking institutional and community –based processes requires a shift in the way we think about planning and implementation as discrete entities, in the way options are evaluated and in how we engage as citizens and government in the decision-making process. These findings have important practical and theoretical implications for understanding sustainability initiatives. To advance sustainability, community engagement needs to go beyond planning processes. Communities need more than plans – they need committed leadership, resources and willingness to learn and adapt as they transition to more sustainable communities. The research indicates that planning processes are most effective when the outcome is not a plan but an increased capacity both of local governments and the broader community to address the complexity of sustainability implementation. Focusing on the relationship between values, structure and agency provides the found ation for greater theory building of mobilization for sustainable community development.
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