"If you save an acre of forest, what does it mean economically and socially?" Andy Fulton asks, posing one of the philosophical questions of the late 20th century. "It’s difficult to develop indicators, but they come from the community. They’re based on local values." Measuring the economic, social and environmental values of proposed land uses is an emerging field of study some planning departments and government agencies are exploring through monitoring programs. It’s the focus of a two-day seminar in Vancouver next week, hosted by the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts’ new Council for Sustainability. Whistler’s two-year old monitoring program will be a case study at the seminar. Fulton, the Council’s activities co-ordinator, is bringing together a number of local governments and provincial agencies who have worked with monitoring programs as a tool for determining a community’s sustainability. He says monitoring programs can be especially useful for communities going through a lot of change. "People see the change, but they don’t understand it, what it means," says Fulton. To understand change and to establish a sustainable direction for a community, Fulton says you need social, environmental and economic indicators, and you need links between the three. Economic monitoring is probably the best known type of monitoring. It may provide indicators on local, regional and national economies. Environmental monitoring has been done in Whistler, and elsewhere, for a couple of years. Community indicators often require a partnership between a local government and its citizens. "It takes time to reveal meaningful trends and to establish community values," says Mike Vance, director of planning for Whistler. Whistler has taken a broad-based approach. Not all the data collected may be relevant now, but it might be later. Whistler initiated its monitoring program two years ago. It developed from a community planning exercise as a way to try and gauge Whistler’s rapid growth. At that time the Planning Department couldn’t find examples of other communities monitoring across the spectrum; some were monitoring the environment, some were doing economic monitoring, but no one was attempting to get a comprehensive picture of their community. Fulton points to Salmon Arm as one community now doing a lot of monitoring. Sustainable Seattle is another comprehensive monitoring program. Altogether there will be examples of 10 communities doing monitoring programs presented at next week’s seminar. The results of Whistler’s monitoring program are presented each fall at the annual town hall meeting. Vance says the process is almost a contract with the community. "The politicians get the information at same time as the community," he says. "It’s a little bit like taking your clothes off in front of a crowd." With community and political support the monitoring program can help establish policies. It also contributes toward a more informed community. Vance adds that social agencies in Whistler now seem to be communicating more than they were prior to the monitoring program. This year Whistler’s monitoring program will be broadened to include more regional indicators, community attitudes and environmental measures. Ultimately Vance and Fulton feel monitoring programs should be come part of regional growth strategies.