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Sustainable Exumas Project Explores Environmental Management, Planning and Design
By Office of Communication, The College of The Bahamas
Feb 19, 2013 - 5:19:09 PM

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COB President Dr. Betsy Boze and President of the Bahamas National Trust Mr. Neil McKinney were among the persons who addressed the opening ceremony of the Sustainable Exumas symposium on Tuesday.

Nassau, Bahamas - Research and design experts from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design are collaborating with the Bahamas National Trust and the Government of The Bahamas on a multi-year project aimed at developing a sustainable land use plan for the Exumas that they hope could be adapted for other islands in The Bahamas.

On Tuesday, February 19th, those partners held interactive, think tank session at the Harry C. Moore Library and Information Centre at The College of The Bahamas, advancing initial discussions that began two years ago.

The message from Neil McKinney, President of the Bahamas National Trust was poignant: The Bahamas needs to plan for its future.

“Far too often on many or most of the islands the population is declining, not because there is anything wrong with the islands but it’s because there are no jobs. There is no economic activity and people leave those islands and they come to New Providence to look for work,” Mr. McKinney told an audience of dozens of academics, researchers, environmental protection and development advocates and governmental and non-governmental representatives.

“Any of us would do the same thing and what happens is the islands or settlements shrink and as they shrink we become more and more crowded in New Providence and the settlements in some ways become less and less sustainable simply because those who remain are the very young and typically the grandparents taking care of the children. If we are going to have a sustainable future on the islands, that is a trend we need to reverse,” he added.

Mr. McKinney hopes that the land use plan that will be created would be practical and flexible enough to meet the needs of other small island communities in The Bahamas.

President of The College of The Bahamas Dr. Betsy Boze recognized the significance of the purposeful discourse that is occurring and the potential implications for The Bahamas as a small island developing state. The College has been making strides on this front; it has a Small Island Sustainability baccalaureate degree programme and is one of only a few international signatories to the Presidents Climate Commitment, a pledge by colleges and universities to model ways to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and move toward achieving carbon neutrality.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Phillip Davis and Dean, Harvard University Graduate School of Design Mohsen Mostafavi at the opening ceremony.

“We live in a fragile, archipelagic nation; our economy and our livelihoods depend on these natural resources. We must raise awareness about the importance of these resources; the fragility of our natural, physical environment and the effects on our human activity. We must have a commitment to factoring in environmental concerns into our policy decisions. It is here that the mission of The College of The Bahamas and the Bahamas National Trust clearly intersect,” said Dr. Boze.

“We must begin to change our mindsets, our attitudes and our behaviours towards the environment….We must push for deeper economic, cultural and social shifts in environmental education. It is my hope that this forum becomes a model for land use planning and development which can be adopted throughout the length and breadth of The Bahamas.”

The Sustainable Future for the Exumas project focuses on three critical aspects: environmental management, planning and design. The Harvard Graduate School of Design is providing crucial advice and research expertise as the residents of Exuma, landowners and the government is engaged in discussions about how to meet the needs of the community well into the future.

The symposium, held on Tuesday, was the second since collaborations and consultations began. Dean, Harvard University Graduate School of Design Mohsen Mostafavi expects incremental results over time.

“The project is really a multi-year research project that involves multiple constituencies. The participation of communities, the participation of the government, the participation of local experts which is really the focus of the work here today and the participation of international experts are some of the key components of the project. So it is actually everybody working together that will make this a success,” said Dean Mostafavi.

“We see our role as both learning and hopefully contributing to the conversation and the project; a project that we see as having multiple moments of impact, multiple moments of realization as opposed to a multi-year project that then has a conclusion at the end.”

The implementation plan will involve fieldwork and proposals and concepts for zoning and codification, according to Dean Mostafavi.

This Sustainable Future for the Exumas forum builds on the conference held in Nassau in July, 2011 and will for the next three years focus on research and education in order to create a land use plan for Exuma. Additional symposia, workshops, and meetings are planned in parallel with extensive field research focused specifically on the Exumas and the wider Bahamas.

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