Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hallsmith's Key to Sustainable Cities

Hallsmith begins her book by discussing her definition of community. It is a body that exists out of necessity, and always has. It consists of individuals, businesses and organizations, and the government. For her communities exist to fill the basic human needs which could not be met by an individual, business/organization, or government alone. She defines these needs as: physical well-being, economic security, governance, and social well-being. A community exists to make it possible to meet these needs, but it is also a system, and therefore subject to system dynamics, which she describes in a later chapter.

She also comments on the development of community systems from simple in the past to more and more complex organisms always on the edge of chaos. Using the example of a faucet and drain, she explains that many people are not conscious of the complexity of many systems because they are so large and complicated. We don't often stop to consider where our water comes from or where it is going.

In the chapter about capacity, Hallsmith writes that a community has assets--those things that can meet the basic needs. These assets have the characteristics of critical mass, distribution, and regeneration and thus have the capacity to fill the needs of a sustainable community. She breaks the assets down into four basic categories: economic, environmental, governance, and social.

She then goes on to explain what system dynamics and systems thinking are. She defines the basic language used, and provides some examples of different systems.

Hallsmith's book clearly relates to the topic of the class- the creation/re-creation of sustainable communities and cities. She provides us with what could be a useful analytical tool for beginning to understand the complexity of the world we live in. Often people do not act or take part in the world because they find it overwhelming. Her method might make it more possible to look at the world as something more manageable and therefore worth being a part of.
She also attempted to bring out something that is very necessary in this work: the need for larger perspectives. We all can experience in our lives that approaching a problem without an holistic understanding often backfires. It is important though, that small changes in a positive direction, with an understanding of the whole system, can eventually make a big difference. Perhaps this is what is most useful from the reading: when we act, our actions affect everything else, whether for good or bad. So we automatically have immense responsibility great power.

I had some difficulty with this reading because some of the ideas, even though she was talking about systems dynamics, were not very dynamic; they were not altogether new and, as another blog mentioned, seemed a bit naive. It was not until the very last three points that I found something that seemed applicable and useful. Her lessons for sustainable communities: 1-order cannot be imposed, but will become clear in a self-organizing way, 2-making actors in a community more free will "increase the possibilities for positive change.", and 3- trying out many possibilities while being free to mess up is very important.
On page 38 she poses that information is power, while education is caring. I disagree on this point and I think it is an important one. A person can have access to massive amounts of information, on google for example, but without the empowerment of an education, it is all but useless facts to be collected.
I thought her point that although humans can adapt to living in terrible circumstances, simple survival is not good enough. We must have ideals, and still be able to be realistic in that we are open to understanding the many aspects of any given situation.
One last thought that came up while I was reading: in Germany they are seriously discussing the possibility of a "basic income." This means every person, regardless who they are, would receive an income on which they could reasonably live. There are many implications: people would work because they wanted to, employers would have to reconsider the way they treat their employees, and jobs that are not relevant and not useful would be phased out. Also, people who have talents in professions like art, dance, theater--even homemaking, could more easily pursue what they love to do. Just am idea I think is interesting!

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