Module II – Sustainable Communities

The motivations behind the emerging practice of sustainable communities include the desire to improve the quality of community life, to protect the environment, and to give residents the chance to participate in shaping their own community. Sustainable communities strive to be cleaner, healthier, and less expensive; to have greater accessibility and cohesion; and to be more self-reliant in energy, food, and economic security.

Sustainable communities are further defined by the six types of community capital that they possess:

  • Natural capital is resources like tree canopy and preserved land;
  • Physical capital refers to any built infrastructure;
  • Economic capital relates to industry and finance;
  • Human capital relates to the available workforce;
  • Social capital is the collective sense of place and ownership;
  • Cultural capital includes the community’s unique make-up.

These various forms of community capital are the foundation for thinking about how to build and maintain a sustainable community.  The existence and/or absence of these affects the approach and focus of developing sustainable community efforts/initiatives and eventually a community’s policies/plan.

However, there are three elements identified by P. Jacobs that must be present for sustainable development to be successful:

1.Environmental considerations must be entrenched in economic policy-making.
2.Sustainable development incorporates an inescapable commitment to social equity.
3.The term ‘development’ does not simply mean ‘growth.’

Borrowing from the Minnesota Sustainable Economic Development and Environmental Protection Task Force a sustainable community is defined as, “a community that uses its resources to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are available for future generations. A sustainable community seeks a better quality of life for all its residents while maintaining nature’s ability to function over time by minimizing waste, preventing pollution, promoting efficiency and developing local resources to revitalize the local economy. Decision-making in a sustainable community stems from rich civic life and shared information among community members. A sustainable community resembles a living system in which, natural and economic elements are interdependent and draw strength from each other.”