The Role of Planning in the Transition from Resource-Dependency
Many mature resource-dependent towns are troubled by significant job losses as a result of declining industry. Geographically isolated communities are particularly impacted by these changes, faced with the challenge of developing new forms of employment. Roger Hayter and Stephan Nieweler seek to better understand the transition of resource towns by focusing on the relationship between local planning and local economic development. These relationships have, in the past, been dominated by large-scale industry, where corporations and senior levels of government have taken a top-down approach to the development of resource towns. In contrast, it is up to local governments and councils to restructure communities and economies.
Hayter and Nieweler discuss the strained relationships between local planning and local development, which have coevolved in various directions. Transitioning can be problematic due to the legacies of the dominant economic base of the community, which are often in direct conflict with several aspects of transitioning, such as “local economic restructuring in a once-dominant economic base, resource remapping imperatives that are privileging long-neglected environmental values and aboriginal rights, and local empowerment.” Resource towns developed in a way that prioritized the needs of the dominant industry; this was often at the expense of any groups originally in the area, such as many Indigenous communities. Indeed, many resource-dependent communities were established and governed by the dominant industry until it was no longer economically viable. This means that when communities are looking to diversify their economy they have to work against the old ways of doing business and essentially “remap” their whole structure.
The authors use Port Alberni to illustrate this tension by examining the town’s layout, which is still heavily impacted by past industry. Before 1967, Port Alberni was actually two towns: Port Alberni and Alberni. As a result, there are two separate urban cores, each on either side of a massive industrial pulp and paper mill that occupies the waterfront.
This divide in the urban form still exists today and — although the economy has been in decline since the 1980s — the ageing industrial buildings still dominate the town and logging trucks pass through the centre of downtown for access. The industrial buildings limit beach access to community members as well as opportunities to diversify the land use to other functions. The article notes that while there are some summer tourist activities in the area such as tours of the mill and steam engine rides, these do not play a significant role in the transitioning. During the economic boom, planning in Port Alberni and other resource towns played a very small role in the development of community but now planning is at the forefront of community efforts to promote development as communities transition away from resource-dependency.
In addition to the tensions between local planning and development within communities, transitioning resource towns are often in competition with one another for development opportunities such as project funding and attracting retailers. Hayter and Nieweler argue that these conflicts emphasize the need for cooperation between resource towns; cooperation between regionally-connected resource towns could allow for the shared revitalization of these communities. Integrated region-wide approaches to planning can result in shared benefits, such as increased tourism revenue and infrastructure upgrades.
This is a summary article by Eden McDonald-Yale. For further information, please see the original article:
Hayter, R. and Nieweler, S. (2018). The local planning-economic development nexus in transitioning resource-industry towns: Reflections (mainly) from British Columbia. Journal of Rural Studies, 60: 82-92.