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  Characteristics of a sustainable City

"There is a sense of great opportunity and hope that a new world can be built, in which economic development, social development and environmental protection as interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development can be realized through solidarity and cooperation within and between countries and through effective partnerships at all levels."

  United Nations City Summit Habitat Agenda
(Chapter I, June 1996 .pg. 1.)

Characteristics - General

Cities will need to become more aware of the impact that their consumption patterns have on other regions and ecosystems. A sustainable city will also need to acquire accountability and responsibility for increasing consumption patterns. Cities may work towards responsibility by adapting a policy to reduce, recycle, and re-use consumed goods. Some cities may go as far as implementing user fees in order to control unsustainable consumption patterns.

By examining the characteristics of a sustainable community, a better understanding can be reached about defining a sustainable community. Being very complex entities, cities can be characterized by a number of different properties. These properties may change across countries and geographical regions. This section gives you an overview of the most important sustainability issues in cities - grouped by the geographical locations of the project partners.

" Economy, ecology and social cohesion are the pillars of a sustainable city. These must be in balance and therefore require an integrated approach. Dialogue is the basic principle for achieving this for Local Agenda 21."

  Conference Strategies for Sustainable Cities
(The Hague, 23, 24, 25 June 1999: http://www.denhaag.nl/sust.cities99/theme.htm)

According to RRP International, the five basic elements to the community include:

  • Affordable housing supporting pride & self-reliance;
  • Diversified economic development;
  • Life-long learning;
  • A self-governing, self organizing community; and
  • Stewardship of the environment.

      Source: http://www.rppintl.com/5elementsframe.htm

Sustainability characteristics outlined by the Centre for Sustainable Development include:

  • the formulation of goals that are rooted in a respect for both the natural environment and human nature and that call for the use of technology in an appropriate way to serve both of these resources;
  • the placement of high values on quality of life;
  • respect of the natural environment;
  • infusement of technology with purpose;
  • optimization of key resources;
  • maintenance scale and capacity;
  • adoption of a systems approach;
  • support of life cycles;
  • responsiveness and proactiveness;
  • value for diversity; and
  • preservation of heritage.

Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development

Excerpts from Beth Lachman's article describes the issues that will have to be addressed with long-term planning to accomplish sustainable urban development:

"Economic issues include good jobs, good wages, stable businesses, appropriate technology development and implementation, business development, etc. If a community does not have a strong economy, then it cannot be healthy and sustainable over the long term…. From an environmental standpoint, a community can be sustainable over the long term only if it is not degrading its environment or using up finite resources. Environmental concerns include protecting human and environmental health; having healthy ecosystems and habitat; reducing and/or eliminating pollution in water, air, and land; providing green spaces and parks for wildlife, recreation, and other uses; pursuing ecosystem management; protecting biodiversity; etc…. If a community has significant social problems, such as serious crime, then it cannot be healthy and stable over the long term. Furthermore, such a community probably will not be able to address other key community issues, such as environmental problems, because it is so busy dealing with its social problems. Social issues addressed in sustainable community efforts include education, crime, equity, inner-city problems, community building, spirituality, environmental justice, etc. A major assumption of the sustainable community definition is that trying to address such issues in isolation eventually ends up hurting some other part of the community's health…
Most sustainable community efforts also involve an open process in which every member of the community is encouraged to participate. The focus is on consensus building for the community. The emphasis is on communication and cooperation among many different interests and stakeholders from the community and also from those outside the geographic community if their actions might affect the community. Compromise by special interests is also key where necessary. All the different segments of the community at the local and regional level, including businesses, individuals, environmental and community groups, and government, need to work together cooperatively to move toward sustainability.

Another critical dimension to creating a sustainable community is fostering a sense of community. Such sustainability activities try to enhance individuals' and organizations' feelings of attachment, value, and connection to the community. Many experts feel that only by caring about and feeling a part of their neighborhood, town, county, and/or city will individuals truly work together over the long term to develop a healthy community."

- Beth E. Lachman.

  Linking Sustainable Community Activities to Pollution Prevention: A Sourcebook: http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR855/index.html

Another way of looking at the characteristics of a sustainable community is by examining behavioural patterns, resource consumption patterns, and policies. In a report prepared for the Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy, Nigel Richardson, a consultant, compares strategies for their sustainability or lack of sustainability.

 More Sustainable Less Sustainable
Compact forms of residential
Low-density, spread-out residential development.
Mixed land use; homes, jobs and
shopping in close proximity/TD.
Segregation of land uses: homes, jobs and shopping separated into uniform tracts or concentrations.
Employment based primarily on
education and skills.
Employment based primarily on
environment polluting or non-renewable resource based industry.
Movement on foot and by bicycle and transit. Heavy dependence on private cars.
Wind and solar energy. Thermal and nuclear energy.
Tertiary treatment of sewage; use of natural means of sewage treatment. Discharge of sewage into water bodies or water-courses untreated or with low level of treatment.
Protection and use of natural hydrologic systems. Hard surfaces preventing infiltration; channeling natural water-courses.
Natural open space; protection of
wetlands, woodlands, stream valleys, habitat, etc.; use of manure, compost, integrated pest management, etc.
Destruction of natural landscape;
"manicured" parkland with exotic
species; heavy use of chemical
fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides.
Reduction of waste; recovery, re-use and recycling of waste materials. Landfills, incinerators.

- Nigel Richardson. Prepared for by the Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy.

  Source: Sustainable Communities Resource Package


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