How can we build our homes and communities so that they co-exist harmoniously with Nature? What does it mean to create a sustainable house, a sustainable community, a sustainable city? For each additional day that we live, design and build unsustainably, we pull another fibre out of the fabric of Earth’s ecosystems.


Guy Dauncey, B.A.
Sustainable Communities Consultancy
Victoria, B.C.

Written in 1994


Bamberton is planned as a new town for 12,000 people, to be built over 20 years on the site of an abandoned cement works, 20 miles north of Victoria, B.C. The town is designed along the principles of traditional neighbourhood development, ecological sustainability and social inclusiveness. In order to foster any kind of sustainability, it is essential that the town develop its own local economy, with jobs for those who live at Bamberton. Without this provision, Bamberton will almost certainly develop into a commuter suburb for Victoria. The economy is being planned for the economic context of the 21st century, with an emphasis on diversity, and environmental responsibility. The emerging economy has eight sectors, including construction and development, environmental technologies, home-based business, the arts, telecommuting and computer services, and community retail and services. A Green Business Code has been written, and a 250-member Bamberton Business Network formed. Once the plans for the town are approved, practical business development work will begin.


Bamberton is being planned as a new community for 12,000 people, to be built over 20 years on a site that is partially occupied by an old abandoned cement works, on the western shore of the Saanich Inlet, 20 miles north of Victoria, at the southernmost end of the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). The town is being planned along Traditional Neighbourhood Development lines to be an inclusive community for people of all ages and incomes, and a model of ecological sustainability, with its own local economy. The land is owned and the development is financed by four trade union pension funds, under management by the South Island Development Corporation.

The challenge of building a local economy

Bamberton is only 30 minutes drive north from Victoria, B.C.'s capital and the regional centre, with a population of 300,000. The cost of housing in Victoria has already driven many people to move north to the Cowichan Valley region, even though the commute is over a difficult road which is unpleasant in bad weather. If Bamberton were developed as a normal subdivision, with no planning for an economy or other sustainability dimensions, there is no doubt that it would quickly fill up with commuters. The importance of establishing a successful community economy at Bamberton is therefore essential to the central values and planning principles of the proposed town:

"That Bamberton represents a new possibility for the building of a self-reliant, local community economy, emphasizing enterprise and initiative; the contribution of labour; mutual economic support; innovation, research and development; personal, social and global responsibility; and long-term ecological sustainability." (Clause 4 of the Bamberton Code)

In Canada, it is considered unusual for a real estate development to include planning for the development of its own future economy. The exception might be the town of Kanata, in Ontario, which has developed a very successful economy. In the United Kingdom, however, it is considered normal to develop a new town and its economy simultaneously. The plans for Milton Keynes, Cwmbran, Telford and Washington all began with a strong economic development component as an integral part of the overall scheme, as did that for Reston, Virginia. The task is not difficult, given a clear vision, sufficient zoning for industrial and commercial uses, a high level of commitment, and the appropriate community economic development skills.

Between May - September 1991, the Bamberton Economy Action Team was established and several thinktanks were held, attended by a broad range of economists, economic development specialists, retail and service industry advisors, staff from the Ministry of Regional and Economic Development, and others with relevant expertise. A member of the Federal Business Development Bank has been assisting in subsequent meetings, and regular liaison with the Cowichan Business Development Centre in Duncan is anticipated.

In July 1992, the Bamberton economy development strategy was completed, entitled "A Proposal for the Development of an Entrepreneurial Local Economy at Bamberton"1. The report proposes four organizational dimensions for the development of the economy, and 27 separate projects. Since the Strategy was completed, the Bamberton Business Network has been established, consisting of people who have an interest in locating a business at Bamberton. Six Business Opportunities Seminars have been held, and in January 1994, the Network had over 250 members (see below). Once approval for the town has been given, a full-time Bamberton Business Development Office will be established with the sole task of developing the future economy of the town.

The Economic and Technological Context of the 1990s

When planning for an economy which will not mature until the 21st century, it is important that the plans reflect the emerging future, not the disappearing past. In a 1992 address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Tom Peters, the noted management expert, stated that "The end of the Industrial Revolution can literally be dated to a day in January 1992 when the total stock market value of the Microsoft Corp (with revenues of $42 billion) surpassed the total stock market value of General Motors (with reported revenues of $125 billion)". This was the pivotal moment when the 'intangibles of software, brainware and knowledge' surged past the 'hardware and tangible assets' of the Industrial Age2.

We are experiencing a rapid pace of change as we enter the Information Age. "Brain force, not brute force", is how the noted futurist Alvin Toffler describes the shift, going on to say at a recent Silicon Valley conference that the change presages "a revolution in culture, family, war, logic, causality, epistemology and civilization".

Two revolutions in informatics and telecommunications have coincided, opening the doors to tangible changes in the way we work, live, and operate our economies :

* A 1992 study into small business start-up in Western Canada by the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Management revealed that 71% of all small business start-ups were happening in the home3. This means that the home is now the primary incubator of future economic growth, a fact which has tremendous significance for future economic development planning.

* In the USA, the New York City market research company LINK Resources says that 6.6 million people are already telecommuting. Jack Nilles, president of JALA International, a telecommuting firm, estimates that the figure could be 25 million by the year 2000. Andy Harris, a partner in Telemorphix, one of California's leading multi-media companies, estimates that part-time teleworking (8 hours a week or more) is already practiced by 24% of the US workforce, and is set to rise to 35% within 5 years4.

* In Canada, the growth in home-based businesses has been tracked and researched by the National Home-Based Business Task Force, chaired by Barb Mowat, editor of the B.C. Home Business Report. The Task Force work revealed that one household in 4 was engaged in some kind of work from home, that 1 in 8 was engaged in a part-time or full-time home-based business, generating an average of two jobs per business, and that the average income earned by full-time home-based business workers was over $32,000pa5.

* In Edmonton, the Alberta Blue Cross decided in 1989 to begin the off-site processing of claims as a means of dealing with a shortage in downtown office space. The productivity of the off-site processors is 3 times that of the in-house processors, enabling Alberta Blue Cross to save up to $30,000 per off-site processor, while the workers earn up to 3 times their previous wages, due to increased flexibility, fewer disturbances and the elimination of absenteeism6.

* In B.C., successful satellite office projects have been established by B.C.Tel (Langley), West Coast Energy and B.C. Systems Corporation (Langford, outside Victoria). Results from B.C. Tel and other satellite office developments indicate multiple benefits :

- Productivity gains ranging from 9% (California Telecommuting Project) to 50% (Pacific Bell), stemming from increased sales, reduced disturbances, reduced absenteeism and decreased costs.

- Avoided costs of commuting amounting to some $2,500 per year + avoided parking costs + an average 90 minutes additional personal/family time per day.

- Net office space avoidance costs amounting to $1,140 per full-time commuter-year.

- Reduced air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Teleworking permits a reduction of 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per teleworker per year. CO2 is the major gas contributing to the greenhouse effect, which is now the subject of international treaties of limitation.

- Avoided transportation infrastructure costs. A study of the B.C.Tel satellite office indicates that a comprehensive teleworking strategy to accommodate 5000 teleworkers over the next 10 years would permit the avoidance of $1.77 billion of planned transportation infrastructure expenditures on the lower mainland for the equivalent result, ie conveying commuters to their place of work7.

One of the perceived disadvantages of teleworking is the isolation, and loss of workplace camaraderie. Telecommuting does not suit everyone, and should always be a voluntary option. Experience shows this isolation is overcome in satellite offices, which develop their own workplace culture. Home-based teleworking requires the existence of a lively daytime community culture, which is one reason why home-based work at Bamberton, as a traditionally-planned community, is proving particularly attractive.

A silent revolution is underway which is expressing itself in a strong latent desire not to have to commute. There is much appeal to the idea of living and working in the same community, and being able to walk the children to school. As witness to this desire, BCSC's home-based telecommuting project received over 200 applications for its 20 positions. Telecommunications, in conjunction with the software and informatics revolution, is making it all possible. During the Agricultural Age, we grew accustomed to working within walking distance of our homes and villages. In the Industrial Age, we grew accustomed to commuting to work because the work needed to be located in large factories and offices. In the Information Age, we will become accustomed to the idea that the work can now commute to us. The revolution in telematics, the need to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, the need to improve air quality and traffic congestion, the need to reduce capital infrastructure expenditures, the need to increase productivity, the desire among people to improve their quality of life and the urge to rediscover a sense of community are all characteristics of this shift into a new period of history, economics and culture. The plans for Bamberton are not futuristic : they simply reflect the trends and changes that are occurring in the world8.

Bamberton and the Existing Cowichan Valley Economy

The Cowichan Valley economy is in transition from being heavily forestry dominated to being more balanced. In 1979, 35% of the employment in the region was forestry-based. By 1990, this had fallen to 20%, due to increasing mechanization, and the shortage of an available timber supply9. The danger is that instead of continuing to diversify, the economy will grow into a commuter-based satellite territory for Victoria and Nanaimo. The opportunity, on the other hand, is that the region can seize the advantages presented by the Information Age to develop a strong and diverse local economy, while maintaining the semi-rural atmosphere which currently exists.

The Bamberton economy is seen as contributing to the development of the Cowichan Valley economy as an active and innovative partner. The total building construction impact of Bamberton is estimated to be $899 million (1991 Cdn) by the year 2010, with a further $162 million being budgeted for site development and management costs. South Island has made a commitment that where price and quality are equal, they will give preference to local producers and suppliers, rather than importing goods from further afield. Assuming a 50:50 split between labour and materials, the process of construction and management is expected to generate 662 direct jobs a year for the 20-year development period. If a multiplier effect of 2.8 is assumed for further spin-off jobs generated by the expenditure, a total of 1,839 jobs a year (1991 planning figures) can be anticipated. These figures relate to employment from the development as a whole, and not to the Bamberton economy itself, which is the main subject of this paper, though there will clearly be some cross-over, especially in fields of building and archtitecture10.

The Results So Far

250 people have so far expressed an interest to start or relocate a business at Bamberton, in 8 different sectors of the future economy. Since Bamberton has not yet received final approval from the Cowichan Valley Regional District, this interest is provisional on a successful outcome to the rezoning process. Potential businesses appear to be motivated by the opportunities (a) to live in a pedestrian-friendly community which places a strong emphasis on community values and environmental goals and responsibilities; (b) to be able to live and work in the same place, and not have to commute; and (c) to be associated with a leading-edge community, where the fibre-optic connection will facilitate advanced technological and economic developments.

The eight sectors of the future Bamberton economy which are emerging are listed below. Approximately 50% of those interested would be relocations, 50% start-ups :

1. Construction and Development. The construction of the town, incorporating innovative and environmentally leading edge ideas, offers many opportunities. The interest includes a leading R2000 building company; other builders, architects and landscape architects; an Eco-Design Centre; a cooperative self-build training programme; a recycled aluminum roofing distribution centre; a Design-Build Centre to assist future residents with building and architectural choices; and a difficult terrain excavation company. Discussions are underway about the establishment of a Sustainable Building Research Centre, focussing on resource-efficient building methods and materials.

2. Value-Added Wood Products. The small value-added wood-products sector is the cinderella of the B.C. economy, and clearly has a bright future, once it can secure a reliable supply of quality timber. Interests include cabinet-making; heritage piano manufacture; door & window manufacture; furniture making; and a cooperative woodwork incubator. The Environmental Technologies Park will offer space for a woodworking village, where businesses can work closely together, cooperating on different projects.

3. Environmental Technologies. A 70-acre parcel of land close to the highway is being zoned as commercial/industrial, for environmental and knowledge-intensive businesses which require more space and transportation. Interests include energy and ventilation systems; car-cycle manufacturing; geothermal & ground-source heatpumps; ozone filtration systems; building materials recycling; and intelligent house design applications. Environmental technology is a fast-growing area which will benefit from the synergy and cooperation of like-minded companies.

4. Telecommuting and Computer Services. Interest includes computer software companies; a multi-media production facility; satellite office development; interactive television production; desktop publishing; computer services and autocad telecommuting. The establishment of a satellite office complex at Bamberton for telecommuters is likely to prove attractive to Cowichan Valley residents who currently commute into Victoria on a daily basis, as well as to Bamberton residents.

5. Education and Ecotourism. Bamberton is envisaged as centre of educational excellence, offering a wide range of courses in social, environmental, personal and other future-oriented themes, such as ecological protection, sustainable community planning, sustainable building technology and design, etc. Specific expressions of interests thus far include proposals for an outdoor ecology centre/experiential education centre; international tall-ship secondary education; an alternative elementary and high school; an international language school; multimedia educational workshops; an ecotourism agency; and a personal growth centre.

6. Community Services, Retail & Home-based Business. The viability of community retail businesses will grow as the town's population grows. Many home-based business, however, market their products by mail order, and have distribution networks which reach beyond the local region. Interests expressed so far include proposals for a marine hotel; community pub; community store; catering; jewelry manufacture; a distribution centre for Vancouver Island environmentally beneficial building products; photography; health food store; bed & breakfasts; office services; accountancy; coffee roastery; sailing charters; post office; fitness centre; medical practice; home nursing services; counselling; custom decorating; horticulture and plant nursery, and many others.

The Bamberton zoning by-law is based on the Model By-Law recommended by the Canadian National Home-Based Business Project.

7. The Arts Economy. The arts are seen as constituting a very lively presence in the town, with working artists having studios where they can live, work and sell. A whole-day Arts Forum held at Bamberton in March 1993 attracted a lot of interest. Specific expressions of interest so far include fabric sculpture; ceramics; painters; stained glass; cooperative gallery and studios; pottery; metalwork; an art gallery; and a possible sculpture school. A report has been produced detailing the various possibilities, which includes plans to involve artists as widely as possible in the architecture and planning for the town11.

8. Consultancy & Human Resource Development. The final sector includes expressions of interest in a leadership training centre; film-making; organizational consultancy; interpretive design; environmental publishing, international entrepreneurship consultancy, and a range of other consultancies. By virtue of the emphasis both on community and on electronic networking, the potential exists for consultants to develop project-specific partnerships, and bid as teams on projects.

Building a Sustainable Community Economy : Seven Principles

There is much more to building a successful community economy than simply accumulating businesses. The world is undergoing a period of rapid transformation, which is full of both opportunities and hazards, especially for business. To meet these challenges, and build on the opportunities, seven principles are seen as being critical to the long-term success of the economy :

(1) Diversity. To be secure, the economy needs to develop a balance of different activities, which depend on a variety of markets for success. A wide diversity of businesses will bring an overall stability, and a wider range of jobs and employment prospects for residents.

(2) Local Ownership. Locally owned businesses are felt likely to bring more pride and more community responsibility to their work than are branches of larger companies which owe their primary loyalty to their parent company.

(3) Ecologically Sustainable Business. We are encouraging businesses which are established at Bamberton to attain a high quality of environmental excellence, which will bring many commercial as well as environmental benefits. The logo 'Made in Bamberton' will become synonymous with environmental quality. A Bamberton Business Code addressing a range of environmental and social issues has been written, reviewed by a peer review team, and endorsed by a number of businesses intending to operate at Bamberton13.

(4) Regional Sustainability. Supplies that can be provided locally and regionally involve less energy and effort in transportation than those from further away. The utilization of wood products, building products, food and other materials at Bamberton that are manufactured locally has broad implications for the regional economy.

(5) Self-Management : Most local economies have no self-management process, and businesses are usually left to their own resources, to thrive or to die. Accumulated evidence from around the world, however, shows that community business development agencies are able to make a very valuable contribution through the provision of business training, start-up courses, and other specialist services. Once Bamberton receives rezoning approval, a Bamberton Business Development Centre will be opened, with a full-time paid Coordinator, whose function it will be to work with members of the Business Network and a team of advisors to build the future economy, and to build into it an appropriate mutual support and self-management function, through which businesses will be encouraged to share skills and resources, to the benefit both of individual businesses, and the community as a whole.

(6) Continuing Education. It is becoming essential, in today's world, that learning continues throughout life, as part of the process of growing and maturing. Businesses need contant access to new ideas, new methods and new technologies in order to maintain an edge, and keep up with the pace of change. We can look to distant experts for these skills; but we can also look to the skills we possess in our own communities. The modern ethic of privacy, however, cuts people off from each other, and people in most communities have no means of either knowing about or accessing the skills even of their next-door neighbours. At Bamberton, the range of skills which exist within the membership of the Bamberton Business Network is impressive. The Network is piloting a shared community database and resource network, enabling members to reach out to each other, and use their many talents to assist each other. Bamberton's fibre-optic network will also make it possible for residents to draw on the resources of colleges, institutes and businesses from around the world, and download programs, courses and interactive videos as needed.

(7) Community Values. The final principle concerns the value of community involvement. It is our hope that Bamberton's businesses will share a spirit of mutual support and cooperation, both between themselves, and with the town as a whole. Like the old saying "many hands make light work", it is also true that "many hearts make a strong community".

Transportation Issues

The plans for the Bamberton economy involve the generation of at least one job for each household, or 5,000 jobs, which will represent 77% of the working population (assuming a 54% working ratio). The businesses employing these people will inevitably generate transport, but the traffic will tend to be spread throughout the working day. When considering Bamberton's potential commuter impact on the TransCanada Highway, it must be borne in mind that all other developments which are proceeding in the South Cowichan Valley area are being marketed as "only 30 minutes to Victoria", and have no economic planning dimension at all. Compared to an equivalent all-commuter dormitory settlement, Bamberton's 77% level of local employment, when combined with the existence of local schools, shops and other amenities at Bamberton, will make a far smaller contribution to traffic increase than would be expected if the economy and the other were amenities not in place. For those who do plan to commute from Bamberton into Victoria for work, a community carpool and regular transit service are planned, enabling a further reduction in the volume of traffic that would otherwise be expected from the development of the town14.

There is an understandable fear that the Bamberton economy will not develop as planned, and that every lot will be bought up by commuters, putting an additional burden on the TransCanada Highway. It is for this reason that so much emphasis is being given to the development of the Bamberton economy, through the appropriate zoning, through the growth of Bamberton Business Network, and once rezoning is approved, through the establishment of the full-time Business Development Centre.


The history of Bamberton and the future Bamberton economy has hardly begun. As the economy begins to take shape, there will be a host of other issues which need addressing, such as access to capital, the possibilities for community banking, lessons which might be learnt from the Mondragon network of cooperative businesses in northern Spain, the involvement of young people, including those still at school, support for home-based businesses, shared marketing initiatives, the extension of mutual support networks, and Bamberton's role in the sustainable development of the wider Cowichan Valley economy as a whole.

As a start, however, the first two years of planning and development have been very fulfilling, which stems partly from the challenge of establishing a future-oriented economy, and partly from the high level of motivation, commitment and positive orientation on the part of all those involved, by South Island Development Corporation, by the Economy Action Team, and within the Business Network itself. Should rezoning be approved satisfactorily, the next five to ten years are likely to be equally challenging, and fulfilling.

Guy Dauncey

Guy Dauncey is a writer, lecturer and consultant in the field of sustainable community development, and is a member of the Bamberton Economy Action Team. He is author of 'After the Crash : The Emergence of the Rainbow Economy' (Greenprint, 1988) and other titles.

Footnote :

In 1995, a new acronym was developed to express the core contents of the Bamberton economy strategy :

Create Human Value

Construction & Development

Retail & community services

Ecotourism & Education



Environmental Technologies

Human Resource Development

Value-Added Wood Products

Footnotes :

1. 'Proposal for the Development of an Entrepreneurial Local Economy at Bamberton' (South Island Development Corporation (July 1992)

2. Specific sources not available, but similar references may be found in recent works by Tom Peters ('In Search of Excellence') and Alvin Toffler.

3. 'Home-Based Business : A Phenomenon of Growing Economic Importance', Walter Good & M.Levy, Faculty of Management, University of Manitoba (October 1992).

4. 'Away from Their Desks', Compuserve Magazine pp 32-33 (Feb 1993); 'Growth without Gridlock : A Telework Development Proposal for Isleworth', Andy Harris, Telemorphix, (December 1990); 1991 Telecommuting Data, Link Resources Corporation. June 1991.

5. 'Home Enterprise : Canadians and Home-Based Work', by the Home-Based Business Project Committee pp 95-100 (Feb 1992)

6. Personal correspondence, Gail Estrin, Alberta Blue Cross

7. 'Benefits, Costs, and Policy Strategies for Telecommuting in Greater Vancouver', Steve Finlay, Grouse Mountain Research (April 1991). Also 'BCTel/Bentall Satellite Office Trial : Final Report. BCTel (July 1992)

8. See, for instance, 'Shifting Gears : Thriving in the New Economy', Nuala Beck, Harper Collins (1992).

9. 'Impact of the Forestry Industry on the Economy ofThe Cowichan Valley Region', Eamon Gaunt, Cowichan Futures Committee, p9-10 (1990)

10. Bamberton Regional Economic Impact Analysis : Income and Employment Report, G.E.Bridges & Associates Inc (August 1992)

11. 'The First Bamberton Arts Forum : Twenty-Six Possibilities', Guy Dauncey (South Island Development Corporation) (May 1993).

12. Dauncey, After the Crash, Chapters 6 & 7. (1988).

13. The Bamberton Business Code, South Island Development Corporation (1993)

14. Forthcoming paper on Bamberton Traffic Generation, by Walter Kulash (South Island Development Corporation) (January 1994) ***


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Written by Guy Dauncey, Sustainable Communities Consultancy, 1994