AN INTEGRATED SOCIOECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
FOCUSING ON BYRON SHIRE AS PART OF THE NORTHERN RIVERS REGION.
WHY A STRATEGY IS URGENTLY NEEDED
- High level of dependency on social welfare (48%);
- More than 25% of those under 25 years of age unemployed;
- Homelessness, drug related problems, suicide and crimes of violence are concerns that threaten to increase;
- Perceived conflict between environmental protection and the provision of job opportunities resulting in a divided community and adversarial politics causing:
- Waste of time and money;
- Lack of progress in local government decision making;
- Confusion and frustration for developers and related industries;
- Weak political position with vulnerability to outside forces;
- Loss of amenities and quality of life for residents.
A just and accessible-to-all economy, that enhances the quality of life of the whole community, while safeguarding the right of future generations to equal or better access to resources, biodiversity and a wholesome natural ecology.
ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE IN BYRON SHIRE
• Tourism and the community;
• Unemployment and opportunities for youth;
• Affordable housing;
• Sustainable economic development;
• Eco-village development;
• ESD – optimal land use, preservation of natural environment, social equity and cultural diversity.
SUSTAINABILITY RESEARCH INSTITUTE’S SOLUTION STRATEGY
These are complex issues, however the Sustainability Research Institute, SRI, has been developing an integrated strategic approach to addressing all of the above. Resources, particularly financial resources are in short supply and the above concerns compete for the attention of decision makers and planners, so an integrated approach is the only cost effective and therefore, likely to succeed, way of proceeding.
As has already been understood by Council’s strategic planners, eco-villages have been shown to be able to address a number of the above concerns – (see David Kanaley’s report on the European experience). Also, the current Northern Rivers Regional Strategy “Framework for a Sustainable Future” process, arrived at a vision of a region of villages.
The strategy proposed by SRI concurs with these directions and has developed the concept as:
- Progressively developing a network of collaborating socioeconomic units, each being autonomous, largely self reliant clusters of eco-hamlets.
The hamlets would develop collaboratively to provide complementary components of a total package of products and services with a major focus on nature-based edutainment, recreation and health provision within the tourism industry. This network of communities would collectively present a diversity of approaches to healing arts and cultural crafts together with self reliance in food production, energy harvesting and waste elimination. These lifestyle communities will be unique demonstrations of sustainable technologies and practices and provide a unique and highly marketable tourism specialty product that is highly compatible with community values. Their participation in the tourism industry will also contribute to spreading understanding and development of sustainability to the world at large.
A collective marketing approach that includes collaboration with other industry sectors, such as nearby farm forestry, organic agriculture and other tourism product operations, will provide cost effective local economic stimulation and assured income for hamlet residents. A feature of the tourism product will be the opportunity to explore personal and social health/recreation and development, and quality lifestyles.
A prominent feature of the lifestyle within these hamlets will be the notion of a learning community. The residents will be exploring the development of quality lifestyles that enhance and harmonise with nature’s world and build social equity and human fulfilment. These developments conducted in collaboration with institutions of learning such as SCU, Southern Cross University, the University of Sydney’s, Institute for Sustainable Futures and UWS, University of Western Sydney’s Faculty of Social Ecology, will provide a complement to the region’s education industry and stimulate significant integration between this industry sector and the tourism sector.
This affordable settlement program that also generates sustainable employment opportunities and provides health and education services, addresses fundamental concerns in a cost effective manner. It also provides a foundation stone for the promotion of the second part of the strategy.
- Adopting a holistic approach to social and economic development such that it meets community aspirations. Find a unifying theme for the local economy that enables the commercial enterprises of the region to leverage their competitive edge, whether they be in the agricultural, tourism, education, arts & cultural or retail sectors. The theme needs to provide for synergy between the new eco-village enterprises and the existing key industries.
It is proposed that a suitable coherent theme could be, “At the cutting edge of 21st Century living” – “Quality lifestyles that don’t cost the Earth but can in fact save it”.
It would be necessary therefore to conduct surveys and workshops on the adoption of a unifying theme, such as the one proposed above. And to ensure that the economic development and marketing activities continue to meet the values of the learning society as it pursues its unified vision.
Benefits flowing from the proposals
- Enhancement and expansion of existing industry sectors and the development of a range of new industries and employment opportunities.
- Provision of affordable housing combined with sustainable employment opportunities;
- A reduction in the conflict between tourism demands and local community needs. Because the region would be aspiring to set standards for the world in environmental and social consciousness, its marketing would promote that as the reason for visiting the region. This would lead to a change in the type and attitudes of those attracted towards greater sensitivity and sympathy with the local culture.
- Also, because health and environmental & social responsibility is an integral part of the marketing and therefore the economic wellbeing of the region, we can expect to see an end to conflicts of interest that have been seen between the production processes of different sectors and the needs of the rest of the region’s residents.
- The high focus given to learning as integral to the life of the community settlers, together with ready access to IT, means that the educational and training needs of their younger members can largely be met within the community networks. Job preparation will be based on action learning and self development of opportunities within an entrepreneurial culture.
- Learning new ways that are smarter, kinder, healthier, more fun and allow for everyone to be a winner.
First Steps to Implement the Strategy
• Establish a first model development to be established as a pilot that will trial a diversity of technologies and techniques. In this way a first round of development guides, best practices and some benchmarks can be determined that will inform the setting of local government planning controls and will be of assistance to those considering or intending to pursue this settlement option.
• Concurrently, survey and workshop the diversity of industry operators towards their participation in a unified development and marketing strategy such as the theme, “At the cutting edge of 21st Century living”, with for example, promotional devices such as “Welcome to the future” and notices at departure points “Come back to the future sometime”.
- SRI is a CSIRO Approved Research Institute.
- SRI’s Scientific Research Committee is:
Assoc. Prof. David Russell of UWS, Dr. Elizabeth Bragg, Peter Cummings, Dr. David DeVries, Dudley Leggett and Joe Friend.
- SRI personnel have accumulated decades of research and experience in intentional community development and in sustainable technologies and practices.
- Part of the Institute’s research to date has been developing the community social development techniques and organisational mechanisms and finding suitably prepared people keen to participate in this first pilot settlement that will be closely monitored and evaluated.
- University of Western Sydney’s faculty of Social Ecology, SCU and the Science Art Research Centre now located in Uki, have been approached and have indicated enthusiasm for the concept of collaboration with SRI in the proposed pilot eco-hamlet development.
- That Byron Shire Council and the NRRS committee embrace this strategy and its proposals.
- That SRI be endorsed as a suitable body to initiate the First Steps as described herein.
These endorsements of the concept would assist in the Institute’s application for Federal and/or State funding and for private and corporate assistance towards financing the initial establishment and research program. Plans are being developed to ensure the long term financial independence of the project.
SRI’s Regional Strategy for a Sustainable Society
The world today can be characterised as being very complex, and dominated by a cultural paradigm that is essentially very mental, rational, intellectual. The following is a proposed strategic approach to guide our choices regarding positive action towards developing a better state of affairs.
Let us begin by addressing the following self-evident truths:
• The dominating economic order means that the large organisations and the wealthy have increasing power to override the needs of the small organisations and the poor. This is resulting in an accelerating decline in wealth and health of an increasing majority of the world’s population and an accelerating concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a minority.
• Decision making on social and economic matters is increasingly centralised and distant from the places of their impact. This is resulting in outcomes that are destructive of social and environmental health and wellbeing.
• As a result of the above there is increasing waste of resources, particularly of the human potential, and damage inflicted on the world’s natural capital and biodiversity.
Byron Shire is a place where these effects are clearly visible as an example within the materially affluent developed world. It is also a place that has a unique potential to explore, develop and demonstrate an alternative approach to sociopolitical and socioeconomic management.
The proposed strategy assumes that:
• Any attempt to develop alternatives that could be sustained must be achieved through whole system design.
• A successful strategy must incorporate an integrated approach to the social, ecological and economic factors and must be able to provide mechanisms for transition from the current, processes, structures and practices to the new.
• The concepts and actions that are incorporated in an appropriate strategy will need to be initially coherent with the ongoing (old paradigm based) structures & processes and while maintaining integrity with the new paradigm, will invoke accelerating transformation to the structures & processes of the new sustainable model.
The significance of the choice of the letters SRI (the word that precedes names of god, signifying sacredness in the Hindu religion) in naming the research institute lies in keeping in front of us the spiritual basis of our search for understanding what is required to be a sustainable society and how our current society can transition into such a society. This is premised on the view that the fundamental flaw undermining the sustainability of our current society is the Newtonian mechanistic world view and the domination of scientific materialism in determining popular belief as to the nature of reality and the consequent predominant values of western culture.
Therefore if we were all to treat all things and all people as sacred – to be honoured and cared for, we would become a sustainable society. This would also be following the admonishment of Christ to his followers to love one another and to act as custodians of the Earth; Also when he advised us to “Be in the world, but not of the world”.