Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chapter 6: Envisioning a Beautiful World

At the opening of the chapter, Hallsmith states the need for a community’s vision to “reflect principles that will insure the continued health and vitality of the plant to support the goal of sustainable cities.” The author discusses the Earth Charter and the Melbourne Principles in this chapter, and relates them to the social system, the world of power, the economic world, and the physical environment. Hallsmith defines the Earth Charter as a sort of Bill of Rights that includes the rights of nature; a vision for the planet; an international treaty, written by the people. She calls it “a vision for ways in which all our needs can be met,” tying the patterns and needs of natural systems into the patterns and needs of the community throughout her discussion. However, I wish there had been more of a discussion of how we can practically apply some of these principles in the fields of design and planning - perhaps this is addressed in yet another chapter.
Throughout her discussion, Hallsmith stresses respect and care for the community of life-in all its forms, as outlined in the Charter, as a critical part of working toward sustainable, democratic communities. She reminds the reader that relationships are interdependent, as are systems, including ecological systems, and stresses the value of all parts of the system, regardless of their intrinsic value to human beings, because they are integral to the functioning of the system. She also states that families need to be strengthened, as “so many government policies today erode the family.” I’m not sure that I can agree with her on this point, as it seems unsupported by examples; she goes on to mention work vs. school schedules, welfare, and social security. She also discusses health care, sustainable education, lifelong learning, and the use of media to increase social development and raise awareness of ecological and social challenges.
When discussing the political system, Hallsmith points to power, justice, equitable access, and conflict resolution. She cites fundamental freedoms as providing the opportunity to realize one’s potential, but reminds us that freedom of action comes with responsibility to care for the environment and hold actors responsible. The author calls for the elimination of discrimination – political, social, and economic equity, and universal access – not only physical, but access to information on environmental matters. She also suggests demilitarization to a level of defense, and putting those funds toward peace and ecology, supporting environmental protection..
In her vision for the economy, the author suggests the eradication of poverty, equitable distribution of wealth among nations, increased resources, and social and economic justice.
Eventually, Hallsmith addressed the physical environment, which I felt had been essentially bypassed, aside from her use of terms like “sustainability” and “environmental protection.” She calls for the support and rehabilitation of natural systems, for the protection of biodiversity, for environmental conservation. She urges a cautionary approach, particularly when information is limited or predicted results are unclear or uncertain, in order to prevent harm. Hallsmith also suggests imposing a “burden of proof” upon those who claim their actions will cause no harm, and holding them liable for the consequences. The author briefly addresses housing, energy, and transportation, then promotes the use of environmentally sound technologies for the production of local goods and services, suggesting the internalization of the cost (environmental and social) or goods in their pricing. She also includes water, communication (between cultures and worldwide), and waste processing as things that are also imperative to the creation of a responsible, democratic, and just society.
Hallsmith brings in the Melbourne Principles for Sustainable Cities as a way of interpreting the Earth Charter. These essentially bring in the main points from the charter, and also encourage the minimization of a community’s ecological footprint, empowerment of people, cooperative networks, using ecosystems as a model for healthy and sustainable cities, and good governance.

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