David Neufeld, Winnipeg, MB, has a long history with both Mennonite and secular efforts to address environmental issues. He has served on the Creation Care Council of the Mennonite Creation Care Network since its inception. He was also part of the Mennonite Church’s Environmental Task Force that existed from1991 through 2001 and assisted with the ad hoc committee that designed MCCN. On the job as a community planner, he champions long-term thinking. Heidi Martin conducted this interview.
Describe your job responsibilities as the Director of Community Planning for the Government of Manitoba.
I have worked for the government in the area of land and water policy for 25 years. At present, I manage regional offices across Manitoba that provide advisory and technical services to cities, towns and rural municipalities. Our job is to help communities put together long range plans for managing growth (housing, industry, commercial, recreational, institutional).
2. How has your work made a difference in the land of Manitoba or in the lives of rural community members?
We encourage communities to take a more sustainable approach to land use planning, and to realize that if it is not planned properly it will cost everyone, in terms of impacts on the environment as well as social and economic costs.
3. Are there projects that were particularly successful?
We have a pilot project in a small mining town in northern Manitoba called Snow Lake. For the first time, the local citizens are engaged in a discussion of their future and also bringing together considerations of infrastructure, housing and environment in one process.
4. Name some challenges and highlights from your position.
Short-term thinking is a chronic problem we encounter with some local councils and landowners. Many feel they should have the right to subdivide their land and sell it for whatever purpose someone is willing to use it for. The true cost of development is often underestimated. It also is difficult to quantify some of these costs. For example, the impact of approving too much development around small lakes or allowing scattered rural subdivisions often only becomes apparent many years after they are approved. At that point it is too late or extremely costly to remedy the situation.
5. How does your work integrate faith and your personal interest in creation care?
I went to university to study the environment because of an abiding interest in how we can motivate society and individuals to relate to and interact with the ecosystems of which they are a part in non-destructive ways.
I do not work for a faith-based organization. Separation of church and state is a fact of life, and probably a good thing. Having said that, one of my goals in high school was to work for the government because it is not only driven to maximize short-term profits. The public interest is much broader than that. I have served governments of all political stripes, and I don’t always agree with their values and aspirations. But as long as I can do my job with a clear conscience, I will continue to try and contribute in this way. We need caring and faithful stewards in every sector: in government, the private sector and the non-profit sector.
Meanwhile, there have been ample opportunities to reflect on creation care from a faith perspective. I minored in religious studies at university, got involved in helping Mennonite Central Committee Canada adopt its first policy on environmental stewardship, did workshops at Church conferences, and so forth, so there was little gap between my personal beliefs and my work orientation.
6. Looking ahead, do you have particular goals in the area of creation care that you would like to accomplish at work or in your home life?
I am conscious of the need to fight cynicism. When you have worked as long as I have in a government setting, one can get discouraged or simply give in to the many barriers and difficulties of achieving good policy.