What Makes A Community ‘Sustainable’? - Public Goods

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What Makes A Community ‘Sustainable’?

The term “sustainable community” encompasses a relatively broad concept. frankfurt aerial city view

Though it has a number of definitions, it generally refers to communities that are planned, built or altered in the interest of sustainable living. These communities factor environmental impact into their infrastructural and economic approaches. They tend to emphasize innovative urban infrastructure, social equity and accessible municipal government.

Different organizations prioritize different elements in their definitions of “sustainable community.” For example, the state of California identifies “economic vitality, environmental health and social equity” as the aspects of sustainability. On the other hand, the Institute for Sustainable Communities states, “A sustainable community manages its human, natural, and financial capital to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are available for future generations.”

The RAND Corporation acknowledges the ambiguity of the term “sustainability” and references the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development (the Bruntland Commission) 1987 report as a starting point:

development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In regards to the concept of “sustainable community” specifically, RAND states that it “recognizes that economic, environmental, and social issues are interdependent and integrated.”

So how does this philosophy look in practice?

Sweden highlights several of its sustainability initiatives that have drastically reduced its greenhouse gas emissions in cities like Gothenburg and Växjö:

  • Centralizing the way buildings are heated and cooled in ways that increasingly implement clean fuel sources
  • Implementing renewable energy for public transportation
  • Building innovative waste management systems that turn food waste into bio-gas
  • Widespread use of green roofs that slow flooding by absorbing rainwater
  • Including solar panels on public and private buildings
  • Repopulating pollinating insects, such as bees, to maintain biodiversity.

In 2015 Frankfurt, Germany was named the world’s most sustainable city by London’s Center for Economics and Business Research’ Sustainable Cities Index. The city is a founding member of the Climate Alliance of European Cities, which pledges to reduce carbon emissions by 50% of what the levels were in 2005, by 2050.

Roughly 52% of the city’s surface area is “green” and consists of parks, woodland, farmland, orchard meadors and other carbon offsetting green-centric spaces. Policies like the Green Public Procurement policy that prioritize green strategies, bans on the use of PVC and tropical timber, and implementation of Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act all contribute to Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 4.2% in 2018.

Across the globe, cities and towns of all different sizes are implementing sustainable modifications.

In the U.S., eco-villages like those in Ithaca, New York and Arcosanti, Arizona experiment with more holistic sustainability-focused approaches to community organization. Ithaca’s EcoVillage features co-housing, consensus decision-making and green buildings with passive solar design. Solar power provides over half of the village’s electricity needs, and the residents were found to have an ecological footprint that is 70% less than average Americans.

Arcosanti is a micro-city that was built to test Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri’s “arcology” concept that fuses architecture with ecology to radically reorganize “the sprawling urban landscape into dense, integrated, three-dimensional cities to support the diversified activities that sustain human culture and environmental balance.” Though construction has been slow, 50,000 people visit Arcosanti every year to study these radical design concepts.

Across the globe, cities and towns of all different sizes are implementing sustainable modifications. From policies banning the use of plastic bags to implementing renewable energy plans and innovative sustainable building practices, each community has its own unique approach. Soon, in the near-term future, we hope to be able to just call “sustainable communities” “communities.” Until then, we hope that every community joins the effort to be one.

What are some of the sustainable practices of your community?

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