What is Sustainable Community Development?

The concept of a “sustainable community” does not describe just one type of neighborhood, town, city or region. Activities that the environment can sustain and that citizens want and can afford may be quite different from community to community. Rather than being a fixed thing, a sustainable community is continually adjusting to meet the social and economic needs of its residents while preserving the environment’s ability to support it.

A sustainable community uses its resources to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are available for future generations. It 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 a rich civic life and shared information among community members. A sustainable community resembles a living system in which human, natural and economic elements are interdependent and draw strength from each other.

Potentially significant employment opportunities, consistent with more sustainable patterns of development, exist in many economic sectors. Redesigned and improved infrastructure, knowledge-based services, environmental technologies, improved management and use of natural resources, and tourism are all rich areas for private sector investment, supportive government policies, and expanded training. Some of the most promising employment opportunities include:

  • Upgrading the efficiency of energy use in buildings, products, and transportation systems
  • Adopting and implementing sustainable forestry, fisheries, soil, and watershed management practices
  • Expanded delivery and use of information technologies
  • Sustainable tourism activities centred around areas of environmental, cultural, and historic significance
  • Recycling and remanufacturing of solid and hazardous waste into marketable products
  • Accelerated and expanded development of marine and freshwater aquaculture
  • Adding value to fish, agricultural, and forest products
  • Developing, manufacturing, and marketing products, services, and technologies that reduce environmental burdens
  • Designing energy-efficient and people-friendly cities

Achieving sustainable community development means emphasizing sustainable employment and economic demand management (EDM). Sustainable employment includes, turning “wastes” into resources (e.g., recycling); improving efficiency with regard to energy and materials; converting to greater reliance on renewable energy sources; increasing community self-reliance (e.g., food and energy production); and sustainable management of natural resources (e.g., community forestry). EDM shifts our economic development emphasis from the traditional concern with increasing growth to reducing social dependence on economic growth.

Examples of sustainable community development include car cooperatives to reduce the cost and necessity of car ownership (Vancouver), sustainable employment plans to create jobs, spur private spending, and reduce pollution through public investment in energy conservation and audits (San Jose, California), new product development to encourage manufacturers to develop environmentally-friendly products through municipal R&D assistance (Gothenberg, Sweden), increasing affordable housing supply through zoning codes that promote a variety of housing types, including smaller and multi-family homes (Portland, Oregon), experimenting with local self-reliance by establishing closed-loop, self-sustaining economic networks (St. Paul, Minnesota), community supported agriculture to preserve farmland and help farmers, while making fresh fruits and vegetables available in city neighborhoods (Vancouver; London, Ontario; New York City), local currencies such as LETS: Local Employment and Trading Systems (Toronto), a local ownership development project with a revolving loan fund to encourage employee-owned businesses, which are considered more stable over the long term and more likely to hire, train and promote local residents (Burlington, Vermont), and a community beverage container recycling depot which employs street people - “dumpster divers” - and provides them with skills, training, and self-esteem (Vancouver).