The term "sustainable communities" has various definitions, but in essence refers to communities planned, built, or modified to promote sustainable living. Sustainable communities tend to focus on environmental and economic sustainability, urban infrastructure, social equity, and municipal government. The term is sometimes used synonymously with "green cities," "eco-communities," "livable cities" and "sustainable cities."
Different organizations have various understandings of sustainable communities; the term's definition is contested and still under construction. For example, Burlington, Vermont's Principles of Sustainable Community Developmentstress the importance of local control of natural resources and a thriving non-profit sector to a sustainable community. The Institute for Sustainable Communities outlines how political empowerment and social well-being are also part of the definition. Additionally, referring to communities in Shanghai and Singapore, geographer Lily Kong has paired concepts of cultural sustainability and social sustainability alongside environmental sustainability as aspects of sustainable communities. Meanwhile, the UK's 2003 Sustainable Communities Plan often abbreviates its definition of sustainable communities as "places where people want to live and work, now and in the future". Addressing the scale of sustainable communities, political scientist Kent Portney points out that the term sustainable communities has been used to refer to a broad variety of places, ranging from neighborhoods to watersheds to cities to multi-state regions.
Etymologically, the term "sustainable community" grew out of the related discourses of "sustainability" and "sustainable development" that gained widespread use among local, national, and international politicians and policymakers in NGOs starting in the late 1980s.The term originally referred to environmental concerns and was later applied to cities.
The best example of a real Sustainable Community is Saint Michael's Sustainable Community in Costa Rica. The community produces far more food and water then it needs. It uses regenerative agriculture as a base to live in harmony with nature.
Sustainable community initiatives have emerged in neighborhoods, cities, counties, metropolitan planning districts, and watershed districts at different scales pertaining to community needs. These initiatives are driven by various actor groups that have different methods of effectively planning out ways to create sustainable communities. Most often they are implemented by governments and non-profit organizations, but they also involve community members, academics, and create partnerships and coalitions.
Nonprofit organizations help to cultivate local talents and skills, empowering people to become more powerful and more involved in their own communities. Many also offer plans and guidance on improving the sustainability of various practices, such as land use and community design, transportation, energy efficiency, waste reduction, and climate friendly purchasing.
Some government groups will create partnerships where departments will work together using grants to provide resources to communities like clean air and water, community planning, economic development, equity and environmental justice, as well as housing and transportation choices.
Social movements have gathered momentum, spreading sustainable community ideas around the world, not only through example, but also by offering classes and training on sustainable living, permaculture, and local economics.
The Sustainable Communities Plan was launched in 2003 through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Lacking an official national spatial development plan, the UK employed the Sustainable Communities Plan as a regional development plan targeted at the South East of England.Additionally, the plan created the Academy for Sustainable Communities. The £38 billion plan identifies four key growth areas for development and regeneration: the Thames Gateway, Ashford, Kent, London-Stansted-Cambridge-Peterborough (LSCP) and Milton Keynes/South Midlands (MKSM) . Designed during a period that projected sustained economic growth into the future, the plan's implementation has been slowed and disjointed, particularly since the 2008 economic recession An affordable housing shortage in the UK has also challenged the Plan's implementation.
The Partnership for Sustainable Communities is an interagency partnership between the Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These departments work together with a mission to “improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment”.All three bureaus offer funding opportunities to support communities in areas of clean air and water, community planning, economic development, energy efficiency, equity and environmental justice, as well as housing and transportation choices. The partnership incorporates six principles of livability into its grant-making and program development.:
Along with working collaboratively, these government agencies also have their own initiatives. The Department of Housing and Development has an Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities which features a Sustainable Housing Initiative, aiming at “supporting the construction and rehabilitation of green affordable housing”and does this through programs that retrofit or construct energy efficient homes. They also work to standardize energy efficiency standards across federal agencies, as well as expand the availability of financing for home energy improvements and multifamily housing.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a Smart Growth Program which conducts research, publishes reports, showcases outstanding communities, and works with communities through grants and technical assistance.They also have a Green Communities Program which provides communities with a tool kit of information to help them reach sustainable goals. The tool kit is arranged in a five-step program which allows communities to:
The Department of Transportation has a Livability Initiative which issues “grants to eligible recipients for planning, vehicle purchases, facility construction, operations, and other purposes”,with numerous goals, including the improvement of surface transportation, providing public transit on Indian reservations, providing access to disadvantaged communities, etc.
The Euclid Corridor in Cleveland
Once a thriving place of business and home to the wealthy and elite, Euclid Avenue in Cleveland had seen a decline in commerce following the Great Depression. During this economic downturn, Cleveland became a shrinking city as many of its residents moved and homes were turned into boarding houses or abandoned altogether.. After decades of work by city leaders and residents to revitalize this part of the city, the bus line HealthLine debuted in 2008. This bus line increased ridership and helped The Euclid Corridor begin to see the redevelopment of abandoned properties as well as investment in development of commerce, to the tune of $4.3 billion. This created thousands of square feet of retail space and thousands of jobs. The success of the revitalization of the Euclid Corridor is due in large part to engaged community leaders, community members, and NGO's like MidTown Cleveland who worked on ensuring that there was a variety of housing investments. EPA assisted with the redevelopment of abandoned space through their brownfield assessment grants and HUD provided mortgage insurance on properties to aid in the development of Euclid Avenue.
Greenville, South Carolina's Westside
Following a shift from the cotton production that once thrived in the west end of Greenville, South Carolina, this part of the city began to see a flight of its residents and with it the abandonment and decay of its buildings and facilities, higher crime rates, and more low-income households. In 2010, HUD and DOT awarded the city $1.8 million to support a three-year planning initiative which sought to improve affordable housing, transportation, and increase economic development. The HUD provided a loan to encourage economic growth, specifically through the conversion of an old cotton warehouse into an area of retail shops, offices, and restaurants known as West End Market. The success of West End Market led to 230 building permits being issued around the area in a three-year period, resulting in a successful arts district that created jobs as well as drew tourists and locals. EPA assisted with the redevelopment of abandoned space through $200,000 in brownfield assessment grants which allowed for the city to facilitate clean up, or initiate redevelopment. The city also worked with the Federal Highway Administration in demolishing an unnecessary bridge which allowed for the development of a recreational area with a cross bridge, waterfalls, and walking paths, known as Falls Park on the Reedy. In 2005, a mixed-use development was constructed across from Falls Park with a hotel, apartments, restaurants, and retail and office spaces to help further spark economic growth in the area.
Seattle's South Lake Union Neighborhood
With investments in transportation, affordable housing, and green space, Seattle's South Lake Union has transformed from a place of freeway traffic, abandoned warehouses, and parking lots to an economically flourishing neighborhood. An integral part to this transformation was the creation of a street car service, partially funded by the Federal Transit Administration. The streetcar encouraged both Amazon.com and Microsoft to locate campuses in the South Lake Union neighborhood, bringing with it jobs and investment in residential space. The City of Seattle is proposing a zoning change to promote affordable housing and attract market rate development. HUD provided grants to fund building and support services for the chronically homeless, adults and veterans recovering from addiction, and homeless with mental health issues and substance abuse problems. HUD also supplied $5.7 million towards the construction of a senior housing facility. To address the problems with the neighborhoods freeways and lack of sidewalks and crosswalks, a $30 million grant was issued by the DOT to help build crosswalks over 12 intersections, widen sidewalks, add bicycle lanes, as well as beautify the space through the addition of landscaping and trees.
The state of Maryland passed a Sustainable Communities Act in 2010 with the goal of revitalizing and promoting reinvestment in Maryland's older communities as well working to promote “equitable, affordable housing by expanding energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicity to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation”.The law also created the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit Program which promotes private investment in the restoration and development of historic sites. Thanks in part to the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit Program, the neighborhood of Remington, Baltimore was able to refurbish an old tin factory into a space for offices and residences, which led to the development of other properties as well as homes, which increased use and population for the neighborhood.
In 2013 the Maryland General Assembly passed the Sustainable Communities Tax Increment Financing Designation and Financing Law. This law allows for Maryland counties and municipalities to use funds generated from increased property tax values to fund improvement projects in sustainable communities. Sample projects include expanding sidewalks, the development of tree planting on streets and parks, as well as improvements to water and sewer infrastructure to help encourage economic growth and improve quality of life.
The state of California passed the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, also known as SB 375. The law aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through transportation, housing, and land use planning. Under the SB 375, the state is broken up into Metropolitan Planning Organizations which are each responsible for developing Sustainable Community Strategies that will help the state reach its goal of reduced emissions. These strategies are then evaluated by the California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board.Under the Sustainable Community Strategy, the city of Sacramento plans to double transit service and increase bike lanes, offering more transportation choices and reducing vehicle emissions. The city of San Diego also plans to increase funding towards more transportation choices as well as promote more multi-family housing near high transit areas. The Southern California Strategies include transit expansion, developing housing closer to public transportation, increasing funding for biking and pedestrians, and the creation of jobs, with most being near public transit.
Cities are defined as jurisdictional units that have small divisions of government within them. These divisions of government have the authority to affect environmental and ecological results.Cities are especially important in initiating sustainable communities because they have local authorities that “have political power and credibility to take initiatives to access and deploy resources in ways reflecting local conditions that allows them the capacity to manage and lead urban development for the good of the environment.” It is also necessary to implement sustainable communities in countries that are industrialized because cities are where most environmental and social problems dwell.
When looking at and comparing sustainable cities certain indicators may be used:
The 34 elements inside “Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously" can also be used to determine whether a city is considered sustainable or not.
The city of San Francisco uses the Precautionary Principal as a framework to develop laws for a healthier and more just city.The precautionary principal gives more power to community members by allowing them to stand up against corporations in their neighborhoods and leaves the burden of proof to corporations instead of community members. Companies must prove that their endeavors are harmless to the community instead of the community having to prove they have been harmed by company endeavors. This allows for a sustainable community as environmental justice and social justice are created.
The city of Quebec to create a sustainable community through political involvement has dedicated studies to discovering why citizens are or are not politically active. Studies from Quebec have shown that citizens’ internal and external efficacy is a large part in determining participation in politics. When citizens lack the internal belief that one can make change in government and the external belief that the government will make changes according to citizen concerns, political participation dwindles as citizens believe no change will occur. When becoming politically active, a citizen takes into account the history of the city government, the government's actions, and government interactions with other citizens.
After noting the city's sustainability level it is important to note what kinds of communities are targeted and how they are affected through these programs and what kinds of strategies are being used to try to create and transform sustainable communities.
The Institute for Sustainable Communities created by former Vermont Governor, Madeleine M. Kunin, leads community based projects around the globe that address environmental, economic, and social issues.Many of these groups help to cultivate local talents and skills, empowering people to become more powerful and involved in their own communities. Many also offer plans and guidance on improving the sustainability of various practices, such as land use and community design, green transportation, energy efficiency, waste reduction, and climate friendly purchasing.
The Global Integrity Project is focused on bringing together top scientists and thinkers from around the world in order to analyze the problems of inequality among humankind. These thinkers examine economic and ethical issues faced in protecting and enhancing our environments and make recommendations on restoration techniques that aid in promoting social justice. They also call for a major and imperative paradigm shift in order to ensure good quality of life for many future generations.
Sustainable Seattle is a non-profit organization which has created regional indicators for sustainability through grassroots activism and has become a world leader in these sustainability indicators. Sustainable Seattle has printed newsletters on a wide range of sustainable community topics, from building to recycling and more, and they are believed to be the first “sustainable community” organization, founded in 1991. There are now hundreds of “sustainable community” organizations across the USA
The Take Back Your Time Movement, led by John de Graaf, focuses on the concept of working fewer hours and devoting more time to living a healthy lifestyle. The movement suggests that allowing shorter work days and longer vacations would in turn help better distribute work, while also reducing stress and making for healthier living. Additionally, people would have more free time to make more rewarding and sustainable choices for themselves.
The Voluntary Simplicity Movement or Simple Living movement emphasizes reducing one's material possessions and desires and increasing self-sufficiency through skills such as gardening and DIY. The Voluntary Simplicity Movement suggests that one should focus on cultivating their own best inner being rather than focus on making material gains and wealth. It also promotes activism within the community to create engaged, educated citizens.
The Degrowth movement is based on anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideas, focusing on reducing consumption and promoting happy, healthy lifestyles in non-consumptive fashions. Main aspects of Degrowth include more equal distribution of workload and sharing work, consuming less, and setting aside time for personal and cultural growth through the arts and creativity
Movements such as ecovillages are gathering momentum, spreading sustainable community ideas around the world, teaching through example and also offering classes and training on sustainable living, permaculture, and local economics. Ecovillages seek to integrate themselves harmlessly into the ecosystem surrounding them, so as to live and interact in a way that is sustainable and supportive of the natural world
Sustainable communities, both as individual projects and as a whole, have faced challenges impeding their development and have been met with criticism.
Sustainable communities projects have struggled to take hold for:
Projects have been critiqued for:
While there are a variety of graduate degrees at universities that touch on sustainability as it related to urban planning and environmental resources, only a few degree program programs exist that train students in the theory and practice of sustainable communities. The most notable examples are:
Smart growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in compact walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl. It also advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, complete streets, and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices. The term "smart growth" is particularly used in North America. In Europe and particularly the UK, the terms "compact city", "urban densification" or "urban intensification" have often been used to describe similar concepts, which have influenced government planning policies in the UK, the Netherlands and several other European countries.
New Urbanism is an urban design movement which promotes environmentally friendly habits by creating walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of housing and job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s, and has gradually influenced many aspects of real estate development, urban planning, and municipal land-use strategies. New urbanism attempts to address the ills associated with urban sprawl and post-Second World War suburban development.
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), one of the longest-running programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, funds local community development activities with the stated goal of providing affordable housing, anti-poverty programs, and infrastructure development. CDBG, like other block grant programs, differ from categorical grants, made for specific purposes, in that they are subject to less federal oversight and are largely used at the discretion of the state and local governments and their subgrantees.
Land-use planning is the process of regulating the use of land in an effort to promote more desirable social and environmental outcomes as well as a more efficient use of resources. Goals of land use planning may include environmental conservation, restraint of urban sprawl, minimization of transport costs, prevention of land use conflicts, and a reduction in exposure to pollutants. By and large, the uses of land determine the diverse socioeconomic activities that occur in a specific area, the patterns of human behavior they produce, and their impact on the environment.
In urban planning, a transit-oriented development (TOD) is a type of urban development that maximizes the amount of residential, business and leisure space within walking distance of public transport. It promotes a symbiotic relationship between dense, compact urban form and public transport use. In doing so, TOD aims to increase public transport ridership by reducing the use of private cars and by promoting sustainable urban growth.
Smart Growth America (SGA) is a US non-profit 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. SGA's mission is to ensure that urban development policies foster safe, equitable, and sustainable community growth.
The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) is a non-profit organization, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, which is committed to sustainable development and livable urban communities.
Environmental planning is the process of facilitating decision making to carry out land development with the consideration given to the natural environment, social, political, economic and governance factors and provides a holistic framework to achieve sustainable outcomes. A major goal of environmental planning is to create sustainable communities, which aim to conserve and protect undeveloped land.
Community economic development (CED) is a field of study that actively elicits community involvement when working with government, and private sectors to build strong communities, industries, and markets.
In the United States, a colonia is a type of unincorporated, low-income, slum area located along the Mexico–United States border region that emerged with the advent of informal housing. These colonias consist of peri-urban subdivisions of substandard housing lacking in basic services such as potable water, electricity, paved roads, proper drainage, and waste management. Often situated in geographically inferior locations, such as former agricultural floodplains, colonias suffer from associated issues like flooding. Furthermore, urbanization practices have amplified the issues, such as when developers strip topsoil from the ground in order to subdivide land, the resulting plains become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and disease. Traditional homeownership financing methods are rare amongst colonias residents, and therefore these areas consist of ramshackle housing units built incrementally with found material on expanses of undeveloped land. Colonias have a predominant Latino population where 85 percent of those Latinos under the age of 18 are United States citizens. The U.S. has viewed border communities as a place of lawlessness, poverty, backwardness, and ethnic difference.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is responsible for comprehensive regional transportation planning planning in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties in northeastern Illinois. The agency developed and now guides implementation of ON TO 2050, a new long-range plan to help the seven counties and 284 communities of northeastern Illinois implement strategies that address transportation, housing, economic development, open space, the environment, and other quality-of-life issues.
Subsidized housing in the United States is administered by federal, state and local agencies to provide subsidized rental assistance for low-income households. Public housing is priced much below the market rate, allowing people to live in more convenient locations rather than move away from the city in search of lower rents. In most federally-funded rental assistance programs, the tenants' monthly rent is set at 30% of their household income. Now increasingly provided in a variety of settings and formats, originally public housing in the U.S. consisted primarily of one or more concentrated blocks of low-rise and/or high-rise apartment buildings. These complexes are operated by state and local housing authorities which are authorized and funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than 1.2 million households currently live in public housing of some type.
Otis France Rolley is the former planning director of Baltimore, serving from July 2003 until 2007. He was a Democratic candidate for mayor of Baltimore in 2011.
The California Sustainability Alliance is an organization funded by the California IOUs to bring together key stakeholders needed to overcome the obstacles of sustainability. The Alliance was designed in 2008 to help meet the State's aggressive climate, energy and other resource and environmental goals by increasing and accelerating sustainable measures and strategies. The Alliance specifically focuses on energy efficiency, climate action, “smart growth” principles, renewable energy development, water-use efficiency, waste management, and transportation management within California.
Housing discrimination in the United States began after the abolition of slavery, typically as part of the "Jim Crow laws" that enforced racial segregation. The federal government began to take action against these laws in 1917, when the Supreme Court ruled in Buchanan v. Warley that ordinances prohibiting blacks from occupying or owning buildings in majority-white neighborhoods, and vice versa, were unconstitutional.
The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, also known as Senate Bill 375 or SB 375, is a State of California law targeting greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 sets goals for the reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions. Passenger vehicles are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions statewide, accounting for 30% of total emissions. SB 375 therefore provides key support to achieve the goals of AB 32.
Sustainable urbanism is both the study of cities and the practices to build them (urbanism), that focuses on promoting their long term viability by reducing consumption, waste and harmful impacts on people and place while enhancing the overall well being of both people and place. Well being includes the physical, ecological, economic, social, health and equity factors, among others, that comprise cities and their populations. In the context of contemporary urbanism, the term cities refers to several scales of human settlements from towns to cities, metropolises and mega-city regions that includes their peripheries / suburbs / exurbs. Sustainability is a key component to professional practice in urban planning and urban design along with its related disciplines landscape architecture, architecture, and civil and environmental engineering. Green urbanism and ecological urbanism are other common terms that are similar to sustainable urbanism, however they can be construed as focusing more on the natural environment and ecosystems and less on economic and social aspects. Also related to sustainable urbanism are the practices of land development called Sustainable development, which is the process of physically constructing sustainable buildings, as well as the practices of urban planning called smart growth or growth management, which denote the processes of planning, designing, and building urban settlements that are more sustainable than if they were not planned according to sustainability criteria and principles.
Urban agriculture in West Oakland involves the implementation of Urban agriculture in Oakland.
The Food Justice Movement is a grassroots initiative emerging from communities in response to food insecurity and economic pressures that prevent access to healthy, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods. It includes more broad policy movements, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Food justice recognizes the food system as "a racial project and problematizes the influence of race and class on the production, distribution and consumption of food". This encompasses farm labor work, land disputes, issues of status and class, environmental justice, public politics, and advocacy. Food justice is closely connected to food sovereignty, which critiques "structural barriers communities of color face to accessing local and organic foods" that are largely due to institutional racism and the effect it has on economic equality. It is argued that lack of access to good food is both a cause and a symptom of the structural inequalities that divide society. Community gardens in poor areas are seen as part of the solution, as well as addressing equity issues in both the decision making process and the distribution of resources.
Environmental, ecological or green gentrification is a process in which cleaning up pollution or providing green amenities increases local property values and attracts wealthier residents to a previously polluted or disenfranchised neighbourhood. Green amenities include green spaces, parks green roofs, gardens and green and energy efficient building materials. These initiatives can heal many environmental ills from industrialization and beautify urban landscapes. Additionally, greening is imperative for reaching a sustainable future. However, if accompanied by gentrification, such initiatives can have an ambiguous social impact if the poor are displaced or forced to pay higher housing costs. First coined by Sieg et al. (2004), environmental gentrification is a relatively new concept, although it can be considered as a new hybrid of the older and wider topics of gentrification and environmental justice. Various studies have analyzed the social implications of greening projects specifically with regards to housing affordability and displacement of vulnerable citizens.