By Caroline Lamont
As an overly pragmatic thinker, the planning profession is well suited for my intellectual thought process. Town planners are able to draw on tangible examples of previous planning decisions by incorporating past or ongoing practices from like-communities. Studying and later working in Toronto, I could walk out my door and see more than a hundred years of land use planning decisions before my eyes, from the impacts of elevated freeways to the success of vibrant commercial areas. The city was a living workshop, where experiences and options were typically just a subway, streetcar or a brisk walk away.
Early in my career, I shook up this safe professional textbook and moved to Whistler. Whistler in 1989 was not only across the country from Toronto, but the planning challenges were almost the polar opposite (other than equally exorbitant rental prices). A regional ski area that aspired to be “world class” had a resident population of only 5,000 and little planning history. Although many of the urban design skills I learned in urban Canada were somewhat applicable, Whistler’s destination tourism focus was different. Despite the confidence I hoped I had communicated at the job interview, the prospect of reviewing a controversial signature golf course development adjacent to a thriving wetland, a five star hotel development as well as a heliport catering to heli-skiing, was terrifying. Not only that, but the projects usually were built in only a few years, where errors such as snow dump catastrophes or unattractive urban design became immediately apparent. Faced with this new challenge, I sought out real time comparatives and forced myself to become a progressive thinker and researcher. I needed to touch, converse or at least see on-the-ground examples before committing. It was the most exciting of times… for a planning wonk that is.
During these years, I quickly learned that although Whistler was special to Canada, it was not unique to North America. Whistler had a few older cousins, most prevalent in the Rocky Mountain states. But as I increasingly looked south of the border for ideas and inspiration, I distanced myself from the professional practices of my B.C. peers. After attending several planning conferences in the early 1990s I found that I had little in common with my lotus land counterparts, where the interests at that time included densifying urban cores, social housing and suburban growth. Hooked on the experiences of other resort communities I immersed myself in reading journals, attending conferences and eventually moving to Colorado for a great one-stop shop for all my mountain town questions.
Planners from Aspen, Jackson Hole, Vail, Park City and other mountain towns provided a how-to-guide to address rapidly expanding issues facing resort communities, including affordable housing, growth management, resort amenities, tourist accommodation conflicts and retaining community. I believed so much in what could be learned from these resort towns that in 2006, together with another mountain resort town planner (Jackson, Wyoming’s Planning Director Brian Grubb), we co-developed an annual conference, the Mountain Town and Resort Planners Summit.