The Possibility of Sustainable Communities

When we hear the term “sustainable communities” in general it refers to the Triple Bottom Line of Social, Economic and Environmental interests at the “community scale.” For our purposes in discussing sustainable (or resilient) communities, the focus is on the Social domain—Community as the social framework and scale for creating a sustainable future, and healthy Community as an essential element of that future.

The sustainability equation is sometimes cited as the Triple E’s: (Social) Equity, Environment and Economy. Social equity is too narrow a framing of our interests in healthy community. Sustainable Community includes human health, arts and culture, civic affairs, education and learning, spiritual interests, communication and networking, social capital, local food and much more.

Whatever our efforts at all scales (global, national, regional, municipal) if the results do not manifest at the local community and neighborhood scale, it’s not happening. If local communities are not fully engaged as the primary stewards and authors of their own sustainable future, it’s not happening. If the human and other capital resident in Community (i.e. non-institutional resources) is not activated, it is not happening. If communities are not thriving in terms of responsible citizenship, human health, peer to peer networking and communication, creative expression, an informed and active electorate (True Citizens), caring for each other, it’s not happening. We can throw all the money and technological/ecological knowhow we want at the wall, but if these and other social qualities do not exist at the local level, the results will be limited and incremental— that is, they are not enough and not enduring. All of our various sustainability efforts to date have not produced the level of transformative change needed to meet our social, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities. The primary reason for this result lies in the social domain.

All of our various sustainability efforts to date have not produced the level of transformative change needed to meet our social, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities.

Our understanding of what constitutes a healthy community and how to catalyze its emergence is lagging far behind work in the economic and environmental domains. We are still using old top-down hierarchical planning and management paradigms in how we engage social interests in community, even among well-intentioned progressive NGO’s and governmental organizations. Tremendous resources are being allocated to incremental projects that do little to strengthen a community’s capacity to care for itself. Most large-scale urban and regional organizations are operating from an outdated top-down hierarchical paradigm without a primary mission of strengthening autonomous grass roots social infrastructure. One such organization recently noted that they were the “grass tops,” and we at the local level were the “grass roots.” We at the grass roots select our own “tops”, and we form and run our own working groups, they are not appointed by the “tops,” and so on. Our campaign efforts are dominated by high-status heroes, champions and experts––they represent a leadership modality that has come and gone, and that unintentionally disempowers the ordinary people who are engaged, the real heroes. Many millions have been expended to buy land and easements to preserve environmental values, an unsustainable long-term strategy, while little has been expended to support the social infrastructure needed for communities to take care of themselves.

The source for transforming how we work in community at the social and cultural level must be people in communities determining for themselves how to proceed.

We need a major transformative shift in how we work in community at the social and cultural level. Much more work is needed on developing the qualities of healthy community and the principles and methods of working in community. While there is a need for multi-disciplinary expert work in this arena, the primary authors of these emerging paradigms must be people in communities determining for themselves how to proceed. How to catalyze this effort is the Possibility. PlacerSustain.Org is a fledging effort to explore this possibility.

P.S. These are my views, and not necessarily those of the organization.

 

Image: cliff1066™

About the Lead Author

Jeffrey Bordelon
Jeffrey Bordelon is a founder and director of PlacerSustain, a nonprofit organization in Placer County, CA dedicated to "connecting people and inspiring collaboration to build healthy communities and thriving local economies." He has been a practicing attorney and land use planner for almost 40 years. His specialities include real estate, business, construction, land development, and resource conservation.

The Latest

Murmurations: A Spell for the Fall Equinox

the nights stretch themselves over our harried hearts there’s no differentiation now each day we come apart in new ways at old seams we age...

Featured

More Articles Like This