Basics of Sustainability Plans and Planning

For communities who are making serious commitments and investments towards a more sustainable future, having a holistic policy blueprint becomes critical in guiding their actions over the course of their sustainability transformation. Each community should tailor their plans to match local conditions and circumstances, thus our work offers a typology of sustainability plans and a menu of elements so that communities can design and implement the plan that best fits their concept of sustainability.

We recognize that communities are at different stages in their sustainability journeys—some pioneering cities adopted plans over 20 years ago while other communities are just getting started. Each of these cities, however, can learn from each other and thus, the Sustainability Planning Lab’s overarching goal is to facilitate a network of peer learning among communities while documenting how these communities are experimenting with different models and approaches.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability has increasingly become the essential policy and planning paradigm for addressing a myriad of metropolitan and urban challenges, such as climate change, peak oil, sprawl, safe and affordable housing, and water quality and scarcity.  The foundation of sustainability rests on three interdependent principles: 1) environmental considerations should be entrenched in economic policy and development decision making; 2) economic and development considerations should facilitate improved quality of life for current and future residents and not focus exclusively on growth/economic outputs; and 3) social equity demands fair distributions and access to economic and environmental resources/benefits that emerge from more modest rates of ecologically sustainable development

References: Saha and Paterson, 2008; Jepson, 2004, Roseland, 2005

What is a Sustainable Community?

Sustainability’s broad definition leaves much room for debate and interpretation among policymakers, practitioners, and scholars. Perhaps sustainable communities offer a more practical vehicle for translating sustainability’s broad principles of environmental, equity, and economic outcomes into practice. By definition, a sustainable community addresses the negative consequences of traditional economic development decisions and sprawl development patterns. The ability of a city to become sustainable, however, depends heavily on the nature and effectiveness of its local government regime since local governments exert a leadership role in making land use decisions

Underlying the concept of sustainable communities is the notion that it is possible to make significant strides towards creating healthy and livable places by focusing attention on small geographic areas (Portney, 2003).

References: Campbell, 1996, Portney, 2003, Newman and Jennings, 2008

What is Sustainability Planning?

Translating sustainability’s broad principles into practice is also is a complex planning endeavor that requires building consensus among diverse stakeholders often with conflicting interests and competing actions. As a result, planners face formidable challenges in reconciling sustainability with other urban planning paradigms that espouse similar precepts, such as smart growth, new urbanism, and livability (Godschalk, 2004).  Sustainability plans attempt to translate these broad principles into practice by setting goals, establishing measurable targets, and promoting a myriad of policies and programs. Sustainability plans can provide inspiring green visions, serve as catalysts for community dialogue, and facilitate collaboration across departments and agencies.  They typically cover a wide range of policies and programs, such as climate change, renewable energy, GHGs, green jobs, and green infrastructure. For most communities developing and especially implementing sustainability plans remains a work in progress. As more cities design and adopt sustainability plans, planners must craft holistic frameworks that include ambitious goals, realistic targets and a myriad of environmental, economic and social policies and programs. Sustainability planning remains an evolving practice as cities search for relevant planning models they can tailor to meet regional and local policy priorities and political realities.

As more cities adopt and refine sustainability plans, a typology of plans is beginning to emerge; any self-proclaimed “green city” might have one or more of the following types of sustainability plans:  1) sustainability comprehensive plans; 2) climate action plans; and 3) sustainability policy plans and/or charters. rests on the interrelationship of a three-part framework that seeks to harmonize environmental, economic, and social principles.

Please explore the modules below for more in-depth explorations of these topics: