Sunday, August 26, 2007

Community, sustainability, and systems thinking

(a)Whole communities are essentially systems established to meet the needs of its members (a “need” is defined as a lack of something required to live a “whole human life”). Within a community there are three main actors (the individual/household, organizations, and governing bodies) and four basic needs (physical, economic security, governance, and social well-being). Communities are fundamentally systems that are designed to meet our needs based on the fact that the needs satisfaction processes work in a cyclical fashion.

Communities have a variety of capacities which can be enhanced or eroded; if a community capacity is being enhanced, it will be easier to meet the same needs of future community members. Such capacities are the following: economic, environmental, governance, and social. A “community asset” is defined as the facilities, services, relationships, programs, and natural resources that help a community meet its needs.

There are system “archetypes” which usually consist of some combination of reinforcing and balancing loops. Some of the system archetypes are: “shifting the burden” (i.e. traffic and sprawl), vicious and virtuous circles (i.e. education), the multiplier effect seen in economic cycles, and “limits to growth” seen in growth and development. *The closer an economic system is in sync with the renewal of its natural resource base, the more sustainable it is.

(b) This reading outlines the concepts of community which are the foundation for understanding sustainability at a community level. Without understanding our needs, how they are met, and the consequences of meeting certain needs in certain ways, no future action can be taken to become more sustainable as a community. Also, it is imperative that we understand that our communities are very complex and non-linear; taking steps to become more sustainable requires in-depth analysis of our behaviors and the relationships individuals, organizations, and governments have within a community.

(c) Hallsmith does an excellent job of describing individual and community needs and the driving forces within a community. However, thus far she presents no suggestions for future action. Is this a major flaw of the reading or an underlying suggestion of the creativity that can be applied to the growing problem of sustainability? Also, is there any needs-philosophy that Hallsmith finds most appropriate to adhere to in understanding human needs?

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