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Looking for the spark

How will Whistler reach out from its lofty position of advantage to those who are disadvantaged? Glenda Bartosh looks for the answers.

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Of the six billion people on Earth, one in six lives on less than $1 a day, often in a slum without basics like clean water, a toilet or a lockable door.

In 128 countries, hundreds of refugee camps are home to thousands of people fleeing violence and strife.

Global warming, war and lawlessness, and the simple hope for a better life mean that every week for the next 30 years one new city of 1 million people will be built. That equals 728 new million-people cities by the time Whistler fulfills its 2020 Vision.

Burgeoning populations, poverty and conflict can make the idea of global sustainability seem like a Disneyland fantasy.

Then there’s Whistler: an undeniably beautiful and privileged — some say Disneyesque — place where sport rules and pets live on more than $1 a day. A place that’s adopted “sustainability” as its middle name. A place on the international radar screen, especially as it steps up to co-host an Olympic/Paralympic Games that’s embracing sustainability — including the social aspect — like never before.

Add in the fact that two unlikely venues — local government and sport — can be among the most effective agents for bridging the gap between the ultra-haves and the have-nothings, and it all begs a simple question: how will Whistler raise its head out of its special valley-bubble and work toward a more balanced world?

With mayors from places as diverse as Whistler, Bogotá and Kisumu — a city of 150,000 in Kenya that doesn’t have a single fire truck — sharing stories at the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum in Vancouver last summer, people were bound to get inspired. How could those lucky enough to live in a place like B.C. bridge the have/have-not gap and make a real difference?

For instance, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who also heads up the GVRD, came away wanting to find a city or town somewhere in a developing region that her city could provide some practical support to.

Her idea is not to enter the traditional “sister city” relationship, which, although beneficial on some levels, usually amounts to educational and/or cultural exchanges between cities with similar characteristics. All too often the prosperous pair up with the prosperous.

Whistler, for example, has been a sister city with Karuizawa, Japan, since 1999. Like Whistler, Karuizawa is a popular resort town located in a beautiful, natural setting in the highlands about an hour north of Tokyo. Like Whistler, it’s also built on tourism, hosting 7 to 8 million visitors a year.

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