"The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them"
- Entrepreneurial Environmentalist Paul Hawken
She was a fan long before she moved to Whistler. Here was a community, she thought, that really walked its sustainability talk. The resident housing policy, the Whistler2020 vision, the valley trail network, the pedestrian-only village — these were far-reaching initiatives indeed. And she often used Whistler's story to inspire other towns and villages to get creative with their own community issues.
"I'd been watching Whistler for a long time," admits Cheeying Ho. "I was particularly impressed with the vision articulated in the Whistler2020 document. Compared to what was going on in the rest of B.C. — even the rest of Canada — this was a very progressive way of setting a path to the future."
Little did she know that she'd soon become the promoter of that very vision.
It was the spring of 2008. And Cheeying was living in Vancouver. As the executive director of Smart Growth BC — an NGO advancing sustainable land use and development inside the province — Ho had spent the last eight years working with and consulting communities, land developers and other interested parties throughout B.C. "I did a lot of public speaking during those years," she says. "And in those talks, I'd often use Whistler as a positive example of what can actually get done when you put your mind to it." She stops. Lets a beat go by. "You know, what the Whistler Housing Authority has accomplished in the last few years — that's huge! No one else has even come close."
She'd also met and worked with a number of Whistlerites over the years — among them Ken Melamed, Tim Wake, Shannon Gordon and Dan Wilson — and she'd been just as impressed with the people of Sea to Sky as she had been with the policies.
So when she was approached in May of that year and asked if she might be interested in running Whistler's latest initiative — the Centre For Sustainability — she took the offer very seriously. "I saw the job as an amazing opportunity. It was a very appealing prospect for me. Frankly, I was less interested in making an impact on Whistlerites as I was in sharing Whistler's lessons with other communities."
What she didn't realize was how long the hiring process would be. "It was a four month ordeal," she says. And laughs. "There were a number of interviews — even a personality survey — it was quite interesting." But when the dust had cleared and the hiring committee had made its final cuts, only one person remained. "I was offered the executive director job in the fall of 2008," says Cheeying. She lets a beat pass. "By December I was living in Whistler."
That was almost five years ago. So has her opinion of the Whistler community changed since then? She doesn't answer right away. "Not really," she says, finally. "As far as the centre goes, I won't say it's been an easy journey or anything. But I've got a great staff and a strong board and we're definitely moving forward. Still..."
Hold that thought. We'll come back to it.
Cheeying Ho was born in the bustling, cosmopolitan port city of Hong Kong. But her time there was short-lived. "My family moved to Canada when I was four years old," she begins. "I grew up in the Lower Mainland... in Langley and White Rock to be precise. Got my undergrad degree at UBC."