In The Key to Sustainable Cities, Gwendolyn Hallsmith discusses concepts necessary for understanding how and why communities function as they do. She creates a lens through which to view communities using basic systems thinking, gestalt perception, and through a careful definition of ‘community.’
Hallsmith defines communities by the way they meet the needs of their members, with needs being physical, economic, governance, and social. The processes and interactions that take place to meet the needs of the members emphasizes the dynamic nature of communities, and downplays the notion that communities are places that can be created simply through proper road alignment and dwelling orientation. Given that communities are created through processes rather than physical characteristics, it is clear how Hallsmith understands communities as greater than the sum of the parts. Only through their dynamic interaction does a true community form. Following from this groundwork is the notion that communities are composed of various feedback loops that can’t be completely disentangled from the whole.
The foundational knowledge espoused by Hallsmith is relevant to our class because it orients our thinking away from static objects and towards dynamic processes that take place between people. Hallmsith introduces complexity and nuance that must be addressed to affect change within actual communities, and beginning our class projects with a focus on relationships will most likely lead to greater long-term success.
While it is true that communities operate as complex organisms, I gleaned from Hallsmith’s writing a belief that learning about feedback loops and understanding how communities are organized will translate into a more equitable use of power and resources. I don’t wholly believe that inequalities, whether social or environmental, are the result of lack of knowledge; rather, inequalities arise from those in power giving consideration to themselves - and those they affiliate with - before those for whom they have no relations. The flow of resources up the economic ladder, from worker to owner to political/religious bodies is a quality found in historic civilizations, and this distribution of wealth and power is based more on the need to control resources than on the desire to allow every person to experience self-actualization. Those with power will be hesitant to relinquish power and the associated economic and social benefits arising from it for the sake of others for whom they share no ties. This biological and cultural artifact of civilization is a true roadblock to social and environmental sustainability that calls into question the fundamentals of modern society.