Development and Culture – an inextricable link

The integration of econ­omies, shifts in manufacturing bases, communications develop­ments and technological developments are having impacts, causing stress and re-evaluation of institutions, programs and methodol­ogies.  These economic thrusts are shaping political agendas as well.  The apparent inability of national governments to control either economic levers, interest rates or currency patterns exemplifies and heightens these shifts.

Local levels of administration are being given more importance in the scheme of policy making and program design.  Devolution of power has begun; acceptance of this author­ity is at hand.

Natural resources and physical attributes are becoming much less valuable as assets while quality of life, communications-linkages and educational resources become more valuable.  Human resources and their development will be significant – as will the ability to envision the more global and ongoing restructuring.  Quality of life includes cultural assets, cultural integrat­ion and the sophistication of culture industries.  This sector thus becomes one of great consequence and will have to be tar­geted for support and encouragement.

The Atlantic Region, as other areas, is assessing its approach to development.  The rethinking of development in this region has been exacerbated by a number of particularly traumatic economic impacts:

. the demise of the resource industries as a major employer

. the collapse of the groundfish and its damaging impacts on rural coastal communities.

. government cutbacks, especially the curtailment of military expenditures

These are but the latest test to our stamina, ingenuity and resourcefulness.  The local challenge is significant.  There is recognition that conventional approaches to development which are top down no longer suffice.  Community-based develop­ment predicated on strictly social issues or straight economic thrusts have been attempted to little avail.  Economic promotion and prospecting approaches have been fundamentally altered because of the global shifts taking place.

The real dilemma in a more globalized society is that most other communities or regions in any proximity have similar attributes to offer.  Real competitive advantage will depend primarily on our human resource and relation­ships with new developing regions evolving through economic change.

It seems clear that the Atlantic region will have to begin a process of re-examining its cultural and environmental realities – particularly in rural areas – which can enable people to regain an understanding of themselves and a pride in who they are. The time has come to examine whether our culture is, as some suggest, an impediment to growth or is both a facilitator of diversification and a commodity for export.

A case can be made that culture is the communicating of values and traditions passed from generation to generation. And cultural expression through the media of art, writing, theatre, film and video is a genuine form of that communication. Hence, it would seem that culture and communications are inextricably linked.

If, as we are led to believe, electronic communications is one of the keys to future economic growth, if knowledge and information are the commodities of the next millennium, and if human resource development is fundamental to economic diversification, then an evaluation of the role of culture is imperative.

The reality is that the cultural aspect of our heritage coupled with modern communications technology can provide the direction for an era of economic growth which could be unrivalled in our history.

All Four provinces have been recently involved in substantial reflection and re-strategizing their approaches to development.

Nova Scotia, through Voluntary Planning completed a broad based consultative and planning process throughout the province in November 1991.  This culminated in a strategic planning document “Creating Our Own future”.  In 1993 the new Liberal government recognizing the desire for local involvement instigated a process of called 30-60-90.  A commitment to Community Development in its throne speech was one of the results.  A consultants audit of the Department of Development recommended more emphasis on local control and consolidation of present development structures into no more than twelve regions. The government has implemented programs for strategic planning activities and to assist in this transition process.

New Brunswick has been involved in strategic action planning with its first plan “Towards 2000″being delivered in 1989.  There was a subsequent update “Towards Self-Sufficiency” released in 1993.  The focus is equal opportunity, sustainability and restoring public finance.  Themes include building skills, innovation, high technology, while, building on assets and forging partnerships are to be the guiding principles.  The information highway and high tech industries appear to be key directions on which the province will focus.

PEI in carrying out planning and reflection hired Donald Savoie, a recognized expert in regional development, to prepare a background document on the Islands strengths and weaknesses.  Another consultant was engaged to identify and evaluate all organizations participating in any way in the development process.  The intent is to review present structures and identify the contribution each makes, then to recommend a method of consolidation.  The intent is to ascertain the most effective means to distribute funds available for local development.

Newfoundland has been involved in reviewing its approach to development for considerable time.  The House Royal Commission and report (1985) has received considerable attention and is widely recognized for its insights into the development challenges of a rural area such as Newfoundland.  “Change and Challenge,” a strategic plan  released in 1992 was the result of two years of research analysis and consultations.  It puts forth a vision and action plan to take the province into our changing world with a focus on education, technology and people working together.  The local involvement is considered imperative. The plan lays out a strategy to establish 17 economic zones as an attempt to regionalize and rationalize existing structures and efforts.

What needs to be recognized by the provinces in these transitions is that there are many organizations that play a role in development other than government.  There are any number of examples of local initiatives.  Travel throughout the region would identify projects in every community and a real thriving milieu of activities, projects and groups (mostly non-government) pursuing efforts to improve their communities, economies and preserve their way of life.   This is the essence of community development –  it is its strength and its value.

Attempts at consolidating provincial development structures must consider this milieu and its importance.  There is the danger of smothering these local initiatives.  There is a real need for compiling data to identify such activities which will lead to the development of a strategy to facilitate and encourage its expansion (weaving).  The networking of projects and their proponents, and the cross comparison of learning would enhance considerably the attitude and image of this area. In this array of activity lies the key to developing the clusters that will enhance social and economic strength.

Culture provides both the key to unlock the potential of our human resource and the opportunity for economic growth. Its inextricable link to communications will confirm the participation by this region in a new world order – one predicated on knowledge and information. The rich, creative nature of our people will ensure future developments tied to technical innovations benefitting not only ourselves but the world.

Thus, new community development approaches must begin with human resource inven­tories, their strengths and weaknesses. The natural abilities, talents and cultural attributes of the local populace have ulti­mate signifi­cance.  People’s ability to be self-reliant, self-motivated and mobile are key consider­ations.  Physical strengths and weaknesses have to be categor­ized in relationship to more global developments and new regional inte­grations.  The challenge is to evolve institutions, programs and structures that are relevant.

Policy-makers must realize that the true resource of the future is the human resource, that new programs must encourage cultural research and development, that cross-cultural linkages are invaluable tools in fostering appreciation for our own worth and in marketing the commodities we possess.

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