In June 2014, Oxford County Council appointed 15 community members to a new steering committee that would spearhead the development of Oxford's first Community Sustainability Plan.
For the past seven-plus months, committee members have been seeking information on social issues, culture, health and wellness, environmental issues, senior and youth issues, business and finance, rural issues, urban development and other factors that will help shape a secure future for Oxford County.
It's a grassroots, community-based approach.
They need input from across the county, says George Klosler, one of three South-West Oxford representatives. A website was created at futureoxford.ca to promote Ideascale, Jan. 12-Feb. 9, an online forum that allows community members to share innovative sustainability initiatives and actions, as well as vote on their favourite ideas.
"The whole idea is get not just the committee involved, but the actual people calling in, telling us, or writing online some of the things they want to see in Oxford between now and 15-20 years from now," said Klosler.
"We have done a number of things to promote interest, but I think in this southern part of the County – the Tillsonburg area – whenever I go to talk to people, they don't seem to know that a committee like that even exists."
Klosler wants input from the Tillsonburg area.
"Because things are going on," said Klosler. "We've had workshops, we've had four public meetings. The one we had in Tillsonburg was cancelled because of the early snow storm we had in November... and they missed out on that."
Klosler wants people to know about the FutureOxford.ca website, which identifies the purpose of the committee and explains sustainability and what it means to Oxford.
"There's all kinds of information and people can participate through that website."
The sustainability concept, he said, is basically a 'visioning' exercise.
"We have Chambers of Commerce, we have Marketing Boards, tourist committees, we have service clubs, who all do visioning, but with this committee we want to have the average people participating and mention some of the things they would like to see put in place, now."
Time is running out for the committee – they need to pass on their report to County Council by August 2015.
"What I do is I go around to talk to a lot of people," said Klosler. "The biggest question I get is... 'what is that committee, what does it do?' Even at this stage."
Green energy is on the table. How much should we be producing, locally, by 2030. And landfills. What are our needs?
"What do people want?" Klosler asked.
"Ideascale, this is a discussion where people can go on the Internet and express their opinion on all kinds of things. Participate in chats, ask questions about whatever is on their minds. It lasts until February 9th.
"To me, this is a pretty amazing committee. We want everyone to have a chance to become involved without ignoring or leaving someone behind. We want to involve the people... the actual people who sometimes don't have a chance to express what they want."
The idea behind 'sustainability,' he said, is to make sure Oxford County is looking at ways to maintain the good life it has, and maybe do better down the road.
"For example, there's quite a bit of concern about land. People are concerned. They're saying, 'look, we've got to reserve our best land for food production.' So that's pretty clear. People are concerned about waste management. And green energy. They're saying, 'look, we can't continue doing what we've done in the past, there are other alternatives.' Some people are saying the food that we waste, 'is there something we can do to reduce or use that waste to make something else?' Another thing that has come to my attention is attracting manufacturing firms. We produce so much food, rather than shipping the raw stuff out, maybe Oxford or the region could attract firms to produce 'value adding'?
"One person said there should be more roundabouts, and this appeals to me.
"When I talk to people, one of the things they all seem to suggest is that what we do should also contribute economically to the County. People are concerned about jobs."
Other people have asked if we are doing enough for our seniors.
"Those are examples, and there are even more," said Klosler. "We want to hear more. It's about building a sustainable, resilient future for Oxford County, giving shape to a vision of what you want to see by 2030."