Community livability refers to the environmental and social quality of an area as perceived by residents, employees, customers and visitors. It is the sum of factors that add up to a community’s quality of life – including the built and natural environments. Generally, traditional community development focuses upon strategies to create local economic opportunities that improve quality of life. By using strategies that might have worked someplace else, or employing local resources, community development practitioners capitalize on local opportunities to stimulate economic improvement and employment. The traditional belief is that economic growth alone can “finance” livability. But typically a continuous supply of local resources is insufficient to support that economic growth.
Community consultations through the years have assisted stakeholders in defining their vision and needed actions for a livable community that constructively sustains prosperity, expands economic opportunity, and improves quality of life for all people. Community-identified actions to implement livable status have typically included:
- revitalizing existing community places;
- expanding economic growth;
- improving the environment, public health, and quality of life;
- providing more transportation alternatives;
- protecting farmland and open space;
- enhancing economic viability of farming;
- improving roads and wastewater services;
- improving schools and making them the center of communities; and
- growing existing regional assets.
One might judge that the list of livable community characteristics above certainly seems to describe a sustainable community. Sustainable communities don’t happen by accident, however; they happen by design with a sense of place. It comes down to a conscious commitment by the entire community and how it chooses to tackle problems. A sustainable community is one that moves beyond subsistence, to the capability for making choices that promote resilience and long-term benefits, where thinking long-term is one of the real distinctions of sustainable communities from livable communities.
To become sustainable there are a number of values, principles, and assumptions that are prerequisite for any community to determine prior to putting together a framework to follow in attempting to achieve more sustainable actions. Values, principles, and assumptions are the basic ingredients that inform a viable strategy for sustainability. Together these are the makings of a sustainable community design that can far exceed the expectations of livable communities.
A sustainable community goes beyond just present livability by considering what will be left for future residents. The premise of sustainable communities is moral concern about their legacies to the future of humanity everywhere. The development of sustainable communities extends deeper than livable communities regarding how core values retain opportunities for future generations. These extensions include:
- Economic Security (measures – disparities, local wealth, mutual assistance). A sustainable community possesses a healthy and diverse economy that adapts to change, provides long-term security to residents, and recognizes social and ecological limits. A more sustainable community retains residents’ money within the community. Sustainable communities concentrate on qualitative development rather than quantitative growth and reduce the use of incentives that reward excessive consumption while failing to reflect losses in natural capital.
- Societal Well-Being (measures – respect for self/others, caring, connectedness, meeting basic needs). A more sustainable community recognizes and supports people’s evolving sense of well-being which includes a sense of belonging, a sense of place, a sense of self-worth, a sense of safety, a sense of connection with nature, and provision of goods and services which meet their needs, both as they define them and as can be accommodated within the ecological integrity of natural systems. A community that is truly sustainable provides for the health of all community members and considers the needs of future generations. In this regard social equity implies that diverse social and cultural systems are preserved and that tensions are able to be resolved by distributing costs and benefits equitably.
- Ecological Integrity (measures – functional capacity of natural systems, environmentally-sound utilization of natural systems). In sustainable communities environments and diverse ecological systems are maintained both for their own essential natural functions, their beauty, their enjoyment as a landscape (e.g., recreation), and their ability to provide sustainable supplies of natural resources and waste assimilation. A more sustainable community is in harmony with natural systems by reducing and converting waste into non-harmful and beneficial purposes, and by utilizing the natural ability of environmental resources for human needs without undermining their function and longevity.
- Cultural Vitality (measures – existence of cultural values, ability to preserve history and culture for future generations, use of culture and history to advance societal learning). The institutions and processes communities build to retain their cultural heritage are significant indicators of a community’s sustainability. Sustainable development is not a new phenomenon. It is not widely recognized but the seeds of our present concern with sustainability were first sowed around the beginning of the twentieth century with the conflicts that erupted in response to the widespread destruction of natural resources during the settlement of the U.S. There is much to be learned from researching past civilizations, their cultural evolution, and the way our ancestors went about living, playing, working, and growing.
- Citizen Engagement and Responsibility (measures – reaching out, equal/fair playing field, civic capacity, accountability). A more sustainable community empowers people to take responsibility for outcomes based on a shared vision, equal opportunity, and ability to access expertise and knowledge for their own needs. Public engagement blends the concepts of good governance, participation, consensus building, the taking of civic responsibilities, and participatory strategic planning, all of which implies cooperative problem solving and the willingness of citizens to accept joint responsibility for actions that are sustainable.
- Institutional Effectiveness (measures – effectiveness of governance, activities of non-profit organizations, influence of special interest groups). One of our biggest challenges is raising the level of understanding public officials and citizens have for the principles and practices of sustainability. If decision-makers are expected to embrace sustainable economic development and promote this philosophy as a long-term policy in support of activities such as tourism that rely on quality natural environments, these officials must have a set of guiding principles upon which they rely in making decisions and implementing sustainability policy. Community proponents can help by making citizens’ voices heard in governance to achieve greater transparency in government through all-inclusive, transparent public participation.
Sustainable community development is the key to successfully achieving natural resource protection and biodiversity conservation, as well as economic health, societal well-being, and national security in a community development context. Members of a sustainable community take a system’s approach to understanding and decision-making. Acting sustainably implies concurrently limiting waste and pollution, improving the status of disadvantaged peoples, conserving natural resources, making valuable connections among people, promoting cooperation and efficiency, and developing local assets to revitalize economies. The attraction of a “big box” store or major corporation, which is often the focus of livable community discussions, is not (in and of itself) going to advance a sustainable community. Likewise, sustainable community development equals reliable, responsible economic activity that considers tradition, a sense of history, a cyclical view of time, the significance of place, the benefit of personal relationships, and the importance of natural ecosystems, using its resources to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are available for future generations.
A sustainable community is analogous to a living system in which human, natural and economic elements are interdependent and draw strength from each other. Decision-making stems from a rich civic life and a shared information web among community members. Potentially significant employment opportunities exist that are consistent with more sustainable patterns of development. Redesigned and improved infrastructure, knowledge-based services, environmental technologies, improved management and use of natural resources, and tourism are all rich areas for development and supportive government policies. Some of the most promising community sustainability opportunities include:
- Upgrading the efficiency of energy use in buildings, products, and transportation systems;
- Adopting and implementing sustainable forestry, fisheries, soil, and watershed management practices;
- Expanded information technologies;
- Tourism focused on environmental, cultural, and historic significance;
- Recycling and remanufacturing of solid and hazardous waste into marketable products;
- Development of marine and freshwater aquaculture;
- Added value to fish, agricultural, and forest products;
- Reduction of environmental burdens; and
- Energy-efficient and friendly neighborhoods.
The synergy of a sustainable community reduces our dependence on economic growth and shifts interest to the quality of economic goods.
In summary, the concept of a “sustainable community” does not describe just one type of neighborhood, town, city or region. Activities that the environment can sustain and that citizen’s want and can afford may be quite different from community to community. A sustainable community is continually adjusting to meet the social and economic needs of its residents. Because of this inherent adaptability sustainability has emerged as a compelling alternative to more rigid re-engineered “livable” communities. Sustainable development is a participatory, holistic and inclusive process that helps communities move beyond livable status to resilience and long-lasting (generations) improvement.
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A Dory’s Life
A Dory’s Life