The concept of ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Sustainable Development’ is finding its voice, in various spheres of our lives. From big multinationals to the local departmental stores, there is a visible, though minimal, the increase in awareness. In simple words, everyone is slowly but is surely realizing that something is wrong. But the gap exists in transferring knowledge about their role, contribution, and action. It would be impractical for green crusaders to expect a person to stop buying packaged food, not wear clothes from big chains, or drive around in their cars. The extent of globalization, and interdependency, in the world that we live in, has gone beyond the scope of shunning this lifestyle. So is there no turning back? No Solution, one might ask? In the last decade or so, an interesting phenomenon is gaining momentum all across the world, which involves an effort by the entire community and not only an individual. Hence, Sustainable Community Development was born.
Sustainable Community Development refers to communities planned, built, or modified to promote sustainable development & living. Though this is not a comprehensive explanation of the concept, by and large, Sustainable communities try to exist in harmony with nature, and have their ethos based on environmental and economic sustainability, equality and development. It is essential to understand the concept of Sustainable communities to fully grasp the subject. Fritjof Capra defines Sustainable communities in ‘The Hidden Connections’ (2002), as ‘Sustainable communities live in social, cultural and physical environments in which needs and aspirations can be satisfied without diminishing the chances of future generations. A sustainable human community is designed in such a way that its ways of life, businesses, economy, physical structures, and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life. Sustainable communities evolve their patterns of living over time in continual interaction with other living systems, both human and nonhuman.’
Following the golden rule of sustainability, sustainable community uses its resources judiciously and with careful planning to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are available for future generations. It aims to promote a better and healthier quality of life for all its residents while maintaining a balance nature’s ability to work function over time, with minimal human interference, by minimizing waste, preventing pollution, promoting the efficiency of resources and developing and harnessing local resources to revitalize and sustain the local economy. In such a structure, the different elements, i.e. humans, nature and economy, instead of exploiting each other, draw their strengths and power from each other.
As mentioned earlier, every sustainable community might not adhere to a single water-tight compartmentalized definition, but all these communities share the following characteristics:
- ECOLOGICAL PROTECTION: The community establishes its lifestyle, practices and cultures around the principle of protecting the ecology, both flora, and fauna. This reflects in the choices that are made to develop, function and simply exist.
- DENSITY & URBAN DESIGN: The design and structure of such communities focussed on maximum utility of land, resources and construction material and includes like features a grid-like pattern of narrower streets, sidewalks and increased interconnectivity for walking on foot, smaller setbacks, front porches, the clustering of homes, which in turn reduces the need for expensive infrastructure, greater protection of green space, town squares and village centres planned as attractive gathering places, and efforts to encourage pedestrian and bicycle travel.
- LOCAL ECONOMY: An essential feature of any sustainable community foundation is the thrust given to local economy, localization of products, complete independence, and self-sufficiency. The aim to elevate the entire community from the clutches of rampant consumerist lifestyle that has been sustained with the aid of globalization.
- SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT: The planning and development of any sustainable community keep into account the need for sustainable transport. Smartly designed and planned cities have shown reduced dependency on spending fuel and energy on covering long distances.
- AFFORDABLE HOUSING: To ensure success for such a community, diversity, of class, culture and background are essential. However, exuberant prices can be a stumbling block in making these communities a reality. Thus sustainable communities encourage a mix of housing types and income levels by adopting housing policies such as density bonusing, zoning or by creating land trusts and encouraging non-profit housing, thereby ensuring that the price range of the house remains as affordable as possible.
- WASTE MANAGEMENT: With the larger goal of zero waste production, waste management forms an integral part of a sustainable community. Application of the 3 Rs: Reduce; Reuse and Recycle form an essential part of this step, wherein the focus is to reduce the production of waste, and reusing and recycling the waste that is produced.
- WATER: Water management is also a priority of Sustainable Community Development, wherein emphasis is laid on increasing water efficiency, reducing water dependency, reducing water footprint, and implementing ways to ensure zero water wastage.
- ENERGY: Ideally, renewable energy is supposed to be the answer to this component of Sustainable Community Development, and ways like localized grids, biogas production, solar and wind energy are used to attain the same. However, this area has seen limited use, as the cost of establishing infrastructure is considered to be high.
- LIVEABLE COMMUNITIES: One must not neglect the development aspect of such communities, and hence, every sustainable community must provide ample of opportunities to its residents for sociability, personal development, and community participation, thereby ensuring that the citizens lead a harmonious life.
Experiments related to Sustainable Community Development have been witnessed in the developed countries, and largely eludes the still developing countries. That being said, there is still no large-scale initiative that has been undertaken by a nation or a private corporation or a non-governmental that can successfully establish the benefits of the same. But before we can reach that stage, we need to identify urgently our aspirations and gauge whether they are in alignment with those of our planet? We need to redefine the concept of what view as ‘development’ as only then, will Sustainable Community Development become a reality, and a tailor made a solution to all our impending environmental problems.