Sunday, September 16, 2007

Agyeman, Chapter 2 – The Sustainability Discourse and Sustainable Communities

Agyeman brings up a major point throughout the chapter – the gap between knowledge and action, between science and will.
The author points out that the newer sustainability movements include economic vitality, civic democracy, ecological integrity, and social well-being, all of which contribute to a high quality of life for all, essentially, to just sustainability.
Agyeman criticizes the Bush administration’s policies and points out that the US has the potential to be a world leader in sustainable development, especially in terms of funding; however, the US supports sustainable development in other countries, yet lacks implementation domestically, and the “US lifestyle of limitless consumption” continues.
Agyeman goes on to discuss policy tools (sustainability indicators, the concepts of environmental space and ecological footprint), economic indicators (“natural capital” theory, GNP vs GDP, Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare), and sustainability policies (eco taxes, elimination of agricultural and energy subsidies, local exchange trading schemes, affordable housing, recycling & renewable energy, efficient transportation, community supported agriculture). Eco taxes seem to be an idea that would be highly effective if implemented; local exchange trading schemes (such as Ithaca Hours) seem to have a limited range of usefulness, and remind me of the US prior to a universal currency…. The author’s other policies, aside from the subsidy issue which I lack enough knowledge about, seem to be fairly obvious in their benefits.
Agyeman asks a poignant question: Can we achieve sustainable development and sustainable communities by tweaking existing policies, which we are doing at present, or do we need a rethink, a paradigm shift?
The author describes the characteristics of a sustainable community (outlined on p. 63, Table 2.1), “continually adjusting to meet the social and economic needs of its residents while preserving the environment’s ability to support it.” (Roseland) One criticism I have of the author’s discussion of equality and social justice is his tendency to focus solely on the African American population in his discussions. Why the exclusivity? Do environmental and social justice issues not affect Hispanics, Asians, and other minority groups? He outlines representativeness (sic) as an important aspect of participation of the JSP, which he seems to firmly support, yet he lacks representativeness in his discussions.
Agyeman compares narrow-focus and broad-focus civic environmentalism (Table 2.3, p 71). The narrow-focus concept seems more environment focused (Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration), while the broad-focus concept seems more civic focused (Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, resident-driven urban community revitalization). Much of the discussion in “Greening the City” seems to me to be along the lines of narrow-focus environmentalism, aside from the Urban Agriculture section. Broad-focus environmentalism speaks much more to the Just Sustainability Paradigm, with a vision of political transformation and a paradigm shift toward a more holistic, citizen-empowered way of thinking.
Agyeman asks how to translate the various approaches of civic environmentalism into durable programs that actually protect ecosystems. It seems to me that a broad-focus approach may be the most effective, or at least the most lasting, in creating programs or policies for just sustainability. It provides for a more interconnected, participatory process (JSP/EJP) than narrow-focus civic environmentalism (NEP).

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