Sunday, August 26, 2007

Key to Sustainable Cities by Hallsmith

-The existence of communities is irrefutable. Communities exist out of human necessity. From this springs a definition of the sustainable community different from the usual: a community ceases to be sustainable when it does not meet a human need any more. Sustainable communities are purely need-based.

-One must therefore assess whether or not communities are efficiently satisfying human needs. This assessment is the first step leading one to acknowledge how difficult it is to give a single answer to such a question. Communities suddenly appear infinitely intertwined and complex, constantly evolving in the interactions with each other. This is where applying a systemic model to the notion of community helps one to better understand the holistic nature of planning sustainable cities. The sustainability of a community depends upon the health of its economy, of its actors, it depends upon its social justice system, and all these active components of communities, in turn, act upon each other.

-A larger picture emerges: a sustainable community is not only one that cares about the environment. Sustainable communities are more loosely defined as communities in which its actors may lead whole lives.

These passages bring a very different take on what I thought was sustainability, which, to me, was a purely environmental consideration. Adopting a holistic viewpoint to tackle an unsustainable practice, before any action is taken, is essential. It pushes the ecological minded planner, for example, to look at other fields rather than just his own, to get a good sense of the whole picture. It then becomes impossible to believe that by solely narrowing roads, for example, people will be dissuaded to drive because of road congestion. The planner will have to think of the mentalities and values of the actors of the community, which one would have to act upon to help the planning decision of narrowing roads become more efficient. Rooting back sustainability problems to mind frames, vicious economic circles,... seems like the right way to look at reality.

The problem is that there is always great reluctance to take in the whole picture, because one is then overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done, or by the complexity of it all. This is why Hallsmith’s initiative of simplifying reality by modeling it through system dynamics is reassuring, because it seems much easier to tackle reality. But I am doubtful it is always this easy to lay down urban problems.

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