Sunday, August 26, 2007

Key to Sustainable Cities, Ch 2-4

By looking at the community as a whole, rather than just the government or just the economy, we can see how systems interact, either eroding or enhancing their capacity to meet future needs (their sustainability).
In decision making, it is necessary to consider the parts in relation to their effect on the system, rather than just problem-solving in isolation. Systems also affect one another; they are dynamic.
One of the determining factors of a community’s sustainability is its ability to satisfy the needs of all of its members (actors) – governance, businesses and organizations, as well as individuals and households.
Both equilibrium and entropy exist within a given system. Systems will at some level self-organize, and the more freedom the actors in a system have, the greater the possibilities for positive change.

From a design perspective, the large impact is something we strive to consider for any project or idea, but often only in a social and environmental sense—perhaps because landscape architecture often views the environment as something that needs to be preserved and protected, and the social effect, whether a design is for a park or a backyard, is often what is most apparent. The reading points out that the governmental impacts and the economic impacts should also be considered. If they aren’t taken into account, they will still happen, and the end result could be something that is in turn detrimental in another area of the cycle.

It seems as if the ‘environmental’ aspect of the systems was considered primarily in the sense that the environment provides resources. I feel that it could have been explored further, perhaps through additional scenarios, but even just in terms of the changes that would occur in an environmental system. There seemed to be a greater sociopolitical tone to the reading than there was a full exploration of the impacts upon the natural systems, and in turn, their impacts upon the social, economic, and political systems. I feel that the last connection was left out a bit.
I also found it interesting when it was pointed out that the social health had the greatest beneficial impacts; perhaps this could have been explored as well.

Key To Sustainability

a) Cities function as systems. Looking at only parts of a city, its problems and its symptoms will only lead to an unhealthy city. Therefore in order to fix a problem one must see all the factors involved, and how every action can cause a reaction.
People have many different needs; economic needs, social needs, and physical needs. All of the needs are interconnected and need to function together for a healthy city. Cities originated out of social needs (the need to be part of a community), however currently social needs are being artificially replaced by objects such as television and the internet.
Often vicious (negative cycles) or virtuous (positive cycles) cycles are in play in cities. Therefore struggling cities will often become worse off.

b) Ideas of social capital and community are important to look at in our daily lives. Hallsmith discusses Putnam’s theories that television, the internet, and changing women’s roles are leading to the decrease in social capital, clubs, and community. Often new technologies and advances which we view as promoting social interaction actually degrade it. System thinking is also important and often unfortunately overlooked. Often I am asked “what’s the point in trying to change/fix anything when it is only going to have a negative reaction on something else.” From viewing both the symptoms and from there identifying the cause there is less chance for negative repercussions, however I am always weary of the possibility of uniting factors such as environmental, social, and economic without negative reactions. The importance of community also provides another way to look at cities and what shape they are in.

c) The need for community is not only necessary for individuals but for the survival of the community as well, however, how to regain the sense of community and clubs once had is a question which needs answering. Although I feel Hallsmith makes good points about system thinking, much of her points seem hard to apply in reality. I found this both in her plea to unite economic, social, and environmental factors, and in her advice to treat the root as opposed to the symptoms (as in the story of fixing the bad roads first). Often in cyclical situations the root becomes too difficult to find, and there is simply not enough resources to spend on every part of the cycle.

Is that possible?

Critique in blue

Hallsmith argues that community is essential to human life and that all aspects of our human community are connected in some way. She claims that there are three main actors within the community (individuals/households, businesses/non-profit, and government) and that all of these actors have grown together over time. She also says that these actors interact with one another in order to meet their needs—needs which she divides into four categories: physical, economic, governmental, and social. Hallsmith argues that we must evaluate the processes and interconnections that shape our environment if we wish to make sustainable decisions and promote community wellness.

This reading is very relevant to our course because it encourages us to think broadly and optimistically. As we prepare to engage the community, we must look at our projects critically and holistically. We must carefully think through our decisions and set specific goals—keeping in mind the unforeseen consequences of our actions.

Overall, I enjoyed Hallsmith’s earnest approach and optimistic ideas, yet I have a few doubts about her perspective. I was particularly interested in the section about social capacity (p. 59) where Hallsmith talks about the key elements of a socially healthy society. She says that communities with high levels of personal contact (relationships between individuals) and volunteerism tend to be much more vibrant than communities that lack these elements. This observation seems obvious enough, but it still does not answer her initial question: “What is it that makes one community a warm and friendly place to live… or makes another community merely a place on a map…?” (59). Although research shows that volunteerism and personal contact are good indicators of a socially healthy society, I would ask what actually inspires these people to volunteer and engage in relationships. Why is it that some people are so friendly, caring, generous, and concerned while others remain so cold, distant, selfish, and removed? Even with all the right schooling and material blessings, do not many people still lead unproductive and unhappy lives? It seems to me that in order to build a socially healthy and sustainable community that you must change the attitudes and perspectives of the entire planet. You must expect humans to live for others instead of for themselves. You must expect that corruption will not infiltrate the system. You must expect that we can somehow do better than the countless generations that have failed before us. Is that possible?

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.

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?

Key to Sustainability: Understanding Systems Thinking's Role

Gwendolyn Hallsmith’s The Key to Sustainable Cities outlines the importance of sustainability and systems thinking as the foundation for community planning. Rather than perceiving cities, towns, villages or neighborhoods as distinct entities, Hallsmith advocates a holistic approach that views communities (loosely defined) as greater than the sum of its parts. In order to understand the inherent dynamics of communities, Hallsmith suggests identifying the interconnectedness between the 3 main actors: individuals/households, organizations (and institutions) and governmental bodies. These separate agents interact in either sustainable or unsustainable ways.

Hallsmith’s definition of sustainability expands upon the Brundtland Commission’s which focused on intergenerational equity to include Natural Step’s focus on global resource equity. Equity as well as economic security and social well-being are needs that Hallsmith contends are just as necessary as basic human needs for a functioning, sustainable community. These additional needs ensure appropriate power sharing which would in turn promote equitable access to and allocation of the required resources. The inclusion of these needs and the proposed effects would either create a vicious or virtuous cycle.

Categorizing processes and events within communities as vicious or virtuous cycles is an example of systems thinking. Systems thinking, first pioneered in the 1950s, is a framework for developing and analyzing natural and human systems. Systems thinking rejects the idea that problems exist in a vacuum. Instead systems thinking requires an understanding of the entire system (in this case – the community) in order to evaluate the unintended consequences of a solution before the solution to one problem just creates another problem.

Applying systems thinking to community planning provides the tools for creating sustainable communities because it acknowledges the dynamic and organic characteristics of communities. Communities as aggregates of individuals (organizations and governments) are not static and therefore require a flexible, self-regulating paradigm. Using systems thinking to identify the causeffects already in place will only strengthen our ability to create progressive, proactive plans for future sustainability. If sustainability is about finding an equitable balance of ideas, needs and resources then the search for solutions needs to be abandoned in favor of a working model that incorporates change and self-determination as its fundamental premises. This course with its focus on student participation and community involvement is structured to effectively employ systems thinking.

However as an academic setting this course is also in the position to analyze and evaluate systems thinking as well as sustainable planning. While Hallsmith provided a thorough background into both, she was quite general in her analysis of the interconnectedness and responsiveness of community agents. Much of her understanding of communities and the appropriateness of systems thinking seems to rest on individuals' need for social interaction and their interest in participating in their communities however this contradicts with the need (as she correctly identified) for self-determination. Requiring activism as an inherent feature of a sustainable model seems to be a fundamental flaw because it is creating a system that will inevitably fail if its members cease to be motivated. A realistically healthy community should only depend on some of its members to be communally minded and allow for a portion of its community to consist of solely self-interested parties.

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!

Systems vs. ???

(Skip to the part in green if you just want to read the critique)

The three readings, encapsulated by the class handouts and expanded by Hallsmith, function as an indoctrination into thinking about cities, communities, human bodies—anything, really—as systems: evolving, vibrant, intricate webs of interaction that at once defy and define the very patterns of our lives.

The living systems sheet begins by describing the basic tenets of a (sustainable) system, identifying the principles of interdependence, synergy, integrity, and regulation as key components of a living system. The permaculture design principles distilled in the Holmgren handout begin to elaborate the hallmarks of truly sustainable systems; i.e, those that are self-regulating, productive, and frugal.

With those guiding principles in mind, Hallsmith’s reflections on the kinds of systems that comprise life as we know it primes us for a discussion about whether the key players in the city/community system—individuals, organizations/institutions, and government—are helping or hindering the development of sustainable systems. With liberal use of anecdotes, she teases out the underlying systems—some visible, some less so—that are chiefly promulgated by the key players. The reader is encouraged to view the more banal aspects of living, such as working, voting and playing, as more than a series of independent endeavors. These actions, she argues, are irrevocably linked by systems and cycles that have evolved in response to multitudes of economic, social, spiritual and physical needs. Whether the needs of the individual and the community are being met in part, as a whole, or not at all, depends to a great extent on whether the community’s resources and capital reserves are being deployed intelligently and equitably. The best systems, those that foster virtuous cycles and in the end prove sustainable, are the ones that grow out of respect for each other, for providing and accepting feedback, and for using resources without exceeding their capacities.

Of course, it’s easy to see the value of designing sustainable systems, and the simple fluidity of the ideal systems that Hallsmith envisions is incredibly appealing. Why can’t we all just get along, care for each other, contribute to the community in meaningful ways, live frugally, give back, etc? Don’t we all want to be cared for, feel a part of something, have enough to get by, be productive and not destructive? I’m not posing these questions rhetorically or out of cynicism: I mean to say that those are the philosophical questions that seem to be at the heart of sustainable practice. But clearly, those fundamental impulses and desires haven’t produced anything even closely resembling a sustainable city (save a few), nation, or planet. I don’t have an answer to that, but I do know that the simple assumptions upon which Hallsmith bases her sustainable systems and virtuous cycles are not always what we have to work with; to assume them a priori is to problematize the situation not nearly enough.

Key to Sustainable Cities

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.

blog 1

A lot of the theories and strategies outlined in the Permaculture article were all based upon a design and lifestyle that produces and consumes in a cyclical natural order. It seems that in a consumer dominated society, from a micro or macro scale, when consumption dominations production the shape of that natural design begins to appear more linear than cyclical.
In part 2 of this article, there is a major focus on the use of natural energy such as fossil fuels, sun and the wind. These natural resources are not renewable and therefore consumption needs to be moderated in line with production to not create a drastic imbalance.
Another aspect of this article that I found interesting but at the same time mildly controversial was part 6 titled Produce No Waste. This point describes an idealistic way of life where all waste is not disposed or burned but used for another cause. This article points out the earthworm as an icon for this notion because the earthworm demonstrates a design where the output of one is the input of another. Putting this notion into context with American society, it goes back to consumption. Because we consume so much, our outputs are too much for anything to take in as an input. Therefore, the pollution and waste that is left over builds up and harms the environment tremendously.
Hallsmith’s explanation of the relationship between systems within a community was also very interesting. One of the most valuable statements I took away from this chapter was when she wrote about understanding that the connections and relationships are more important than the elements themselves within a large social system. Even though this was meant to pertain to a social perspective, it can be easily linked to the Permaculture article in the sense that society is a huge system with so many branches and connections. Whether it is social, environment or political, all three and so many more aspects go into creating a system.

Sustainable Communities Concepts

A community is a dynamic equilibrium. Communities are like living breathing organisms that are constantly changing and “more than the sum of its parts.” Gwendolyn Hallsmith says that connectedness is the defining principle of all communities. Every community, local, government and world is connected and all decisions made will affect others in large and subtle ways. When there is a problem or issue in one sector of the community no matter how insignificant, it will come full circle and affect the whole community in some way. It is important to value every person in the community and for everyone to know their role and how they affect the community as a whole. Open communication and a welcoming environment that accepts diverse opinions where people are “free to make mistakes” is necessary for a healthy community.

Celebrate uniqueness. Every community is special and unique in its own way. When dealing with sustainability and how to develop a sustainable community it is wise to focus on the elements that make a community unique and find ways to sustain them. By focusing on the positive and trying to preserve those special factors can make a community come together. It is easier to implement change when there is a common goal that everyone has. Changes are easier to make when they are not forced

Viewing the community in a holistic way is a crucial element when developing sustainable communities. Addressing only symptoms instead of finding the root cause of the problems, will lead to more problems. The author gave an example about road maintenance and repair problems in a small town. The citizens complained about the poor conditions of the roads and wanted relief. The local government wanted to use all their available funds to completely rebuild the worst roads, thereby depleting funds for all other road maintenance. Thankfully there was software available that allowed the town to see the economic impact that decision would have made and they were able to get a bigger view of their problems.

My question is; how do we view issues in a more holistic way when software is not available? How do we start to implement the ideas of sustainability realistically with limited resources, money, talent, leadership and conflicting agendas? How do we open our eyes to the long term goals and not the short term needs of the moment?

Perhaps our group projects will be a micro study as to how workable sustainable communities could be in the real world. It will be interesting and illuminating to see how our groups handle differing interests and perspectives and the creative solutions we will come up with.

Week 1: Hallsmith's Key

In order to create the foundation for sustainable development in a community, the perception of “connectedness” is necessary. This is a holistic view of a city as a living thing, not just the infrastructure, but the social systems and relationships between them as well. All parts, on every level, from the individual to the local organizations to the government, are essential to each other and to the whole for sustainability.

Community needs are defined as something required to live “whole human lives” – and include the physical, economic, governance, and social. Community Capacity is the community’s ability fulfill to its member’s needs. Community assets are individual need satisfiers, (i.e.; facilities, services, relationships, programs, natural resources, and people) and assets are accessed through need satisfaction systems. Critical mass is the aggregate amount of an asset required to satisfy the demand. How distribution is handled (equitably or not) and planning for regeneration of an asset can affect its qualification as critical mass.

Systems thinking is a holistic asset-based approach to problem solving in communities, as opposed to a problem-focused way of thinking. It encourages an examination of relationships between all elements of the larger social system. There is an emphasis on relationships being more important than elements themselves. A critical concept is that a system always becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

The view of the community as a living entity with different parts of the system working together like parts of a living organism is something that I’ve been exposed to since I came to Cornell, and have found to have extreme relevance. I’ve most often heard it referred to as the “(bio)ecological systems view”. Over the summer, I worked in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, on research having to do with stemming the rising tide of childhood obesity. Our research team was continually coming back to the ecosystems view of the community; the micro, meso, macro, and exso parts and their interconnectedness, in order to dissect the cause and effect relationships and sources of influence. I appreciated the description of the dynamic state of cause and effect; as being either linear (feedback) or cyclical (feedback loop). The term “causeffect” was extremely poignant to me, as the reality and enormous destructive (or restorative?) potential of the “vicious cycle” when it comes to humans and their relationship with the environment is what I hope to better understand through this course.


I felt that the Hallsmith’s definition of needs as "a lack of something required to live whole human lives" could have been bolstered by a further definition of what a "whole human life" would look like. Perhaps by referring to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Hallsmith could have explained what elements of the various levels of "need" constitute a "whole human life," and how this might change according culture, background, socio-economic status, etc. Also, when comparing the success of one community to the next, at meeting it’s member’s needs, it seems that success would be dependent on these different levels of need.

I was left wondering if an asset is still considered an asset if there isn’t a critical mass? I am in complete agreement with Hallsmith’s assertion that “a community is impoverished if only a very few people are able to satisfy their needs.” I felt that the Capacity Building Story seemed rather superficial and lacking in critical content without telling us what type of capacity building they did in Maine? The significance of the statement “you can’t have community development without building trust” seemed incomplete without an explanation of what they actually did to build the trust.

Hallsmith mentions on pages 42/43 "that it is possible to predict the level of crime in a neighborhood by merely quantifying the social interactions of its residents." She goes on to say that when social networks are strong, sense of community and social well-being are consequentially reinforced. I was confused without a further elaboration of how "social interactions" were measured, and/or categorized in order to determine that there was a causal relationship with the level of crime.

In regards to systems thinking, I was excited by the “systems are alive!” ecological view. I had previously been under the impression that the concept of biomimicry can only be designed into a community at the onset. However; Hallsmith’s description made me realize that it may just need to be facilitated in existing communities!! (i.e. revitalization of a community by allowing it to become a open system instead of a closed system.)

The Key to Sustainable Cities: Wholistic Thinking

a) The key concept and the basis of the reading was the fact that the world we live in is a system. Every event and action is connected together in one way or another. The first point that struck me was the idea that the system that we exist in is two faced. It can be an exremely strong and powerfull forced which fosters life and happiness. It can also be dysfunctional and unsustainable as mentioned later in the reading it is a challenge to try to figure out at what point does the system go wrong. The system has many cyclical tendancies to it, this fact makes it extremely important to be concious and aware of teh fact that no action is independent. To use the cliche phrase "what goes aroung comes around" one mistake or a lack of thoughtfullness is affecting other things and will eventually come back to you in another way. This leads into my other idea that community success is a wholistic act one can not look at individual pieces of a community and later expect that community to be a success everything must be viewed as a whole in order for full success and sustainability and environmental success to occur. It is important to know and be aware that these large wholistic actions can often not take place without government action. It is often believed that the government is a negative force on society but in reality they can be the most powerful force towards large scale change, awareness, and sustainability.

b) The idea thaat i really took away in terms of the class is that a "eco city" is not a place where merely sustainable practices are enforced and practiced, as i had previously thought. A sustainable and ecological city is one where every choice, desision, and action is taken with great care and thought. Systems can fall apart when too much emphasis is placed on one side such as social needs and not enough is placed on the other sides. A smaller idea that struck me as more i would liek to learn about in th class is something that was addressed in teh first day video and that is the contrast of ecological footprints between Americans and people of other countries. I was always aware of this difference but i am interested to learn more as to why it occurs. Overall this reading has really taught me to look at communities and systems in a much different way. I want to start to examine these systems that surround us and really take time to see how the systems interact together.

c) I somewhat addressed my first question in the previous answer that i would like to examine global ecology and why different countries have different ecological footprints. The second thing that really intruiged thought for me was the five key variables for sustainable economic development. I do not know enough yet about sustainable development so i do not knwo exactly what my opinions are but i would really like to continue to refer back to these key concepts as i learn more and develop more of an opinion.

Sounds great, but...

The overarching concept of the selected reading is that we should think of things in terms of systems. If a community is thought of as a system in which all parts of it are interconnected, one event cannot occur without affecting all the other aspects of that system. Stemming from that concept is another one that I found significant, emergence. Emergence means that all the parts of the system acting together far exceed the outcome of the sum of the parts acting individually. On a similar note, when trying to address a specific problem in a system, one cannot address that with a single solution. Rather, the system must be analyzed as a whole in order to avoid incurring additional problems as a result of shortsightedness. Finally, one of the concepts that I found to be extremely significant is the need to establish greater equity. Broadly speaking, equity entails that individuals have fair access to power, opportunities, and resources. Because more than just a minority of the community members is empowered, the community is more stable overall.

One of the passages in the reading that grabbed my attention focused on road congestion. Thinking about the concepts I noted above, it would be nice to see some of my local politicians applying these practices before deciding to build another state highway. And it seems like the same constituents lobbying these politicians to build more roads to ease congestion, are also the same people desperately holding on to the fantasy that their backyards will remain development free. Perhaps if people would chill out for a second and think a little further than what they want at that exact moment in time, there would be better growth policies in my state.

Most of what the author wrote sounds great on paper, but I just wonder how practically her principles can be applied. She speaks of community building; how there needs to be a greater sense of trust between individuals and more social capital. Thinking about the neighborhood where I live, I become very skeptical as to how feasibly this could happen. The most interaction that occurs between neighbors amounts to a courtesy nod when you walk/run by their front yard. Oh, and then one time this summer a woman called my house to threaten turning my cat into animal control for scaring away the birds that came to her feeder. I just don’t see people coming together to discuss things like forming community compost piles and how to reduce waste.


a) When communities are perceived as whole systems, and not as individual parts to be addressed separately, their ability to function for the benefit of the inhabitants increases.

Sustainable communities are cyclical communities, where the health and well-being of the inhabitants is increased by the community’s ability to balance the inputs and outputs of the various systems in the community.

In addition to serving what we might usually call “basic” human needs such as food, clothing and shelter, sustainable communities are communities in which other needs, such as “sense of community,” of the inhabitants are considered just as important.

Our interactions, our community social life, or “social capital” is what drives our economic and democratic systems. By emphasizing strong social capital as the driver of our economic and democratic systems, these systems will be further enhanced, which will help to continue to generate social capital.

b) Hallsmith was successful in pointing out some of the fundamental ways in which our cities are dysfunctional. Most prominently, I thought, was the inability of government to look at community systems as interrelated. The example of road deterioration in Randolph was a good description of a vicious cycle and the New England Capacity Building story demonstrated that community development can be much more successful in spurring economic development. Capacity building not only among citizens but also within government about the importance of community welfare and development could go far in solving some of the “vicious cycles” our cities have fallen into.

I was intrigued by the “shifting the burden” archetype as an accessible example clearly demonstrating the concept of delay. As I believe that part of change is educating people about their behaviors, I found this example to be one that could be used effectively to communicate to a city how increased reliance on roads and cars will merely create more of what they see as the main problem: traffic.

c. This was a very broad reading of the basic concepts of sustainability, which given the current condition of our cities, I would have benefited from more concrete examples of these concepts work when applied. It is difficult to look at the figures, especially those in Chapter 4, and imagine them matching the complex and muddied systems our cities have become.

I have always been bothered by the idea that to create a sustainable community it is necessary to move out of the city and create a new set of systems. I was attracted to this class because of the emphasis on applying sustainability concepts to our current cities. This is the only way the community development process will reach those people in cities who need it most.

Concrete Points

The Key to Sustainable Cities 5-9, 27-85

  • Philosophers have developed ways to categorize all basic human needs and uniformly place our need for material possessions relatively low on the list of those needs if at all. Why is it then that so much of our society is based on fulfilling these material needs? Our reading suggests that material needs often substitute for other needs, and mention is made of the correlation between lack of training in the arts and a tendency to over-consume. The need to buy a new article of clothing, for example, satisfies Max-Neef’s need for creativity and possibly identity, and Manslow’s need for self-actualization. This substitution is flawed, however, and does not truly satisfy these basic requirements. As a result we consume greater amounts in the desire to fill that void.
  • Vicious circles exist in all aspects of our society. The author gives several examples of these destructive or damaging cycles. One of these is the choice to fix heavily dilapidated roads over mildly damaged roads leading to an inefficient cycle of overspending on roads that if properly maintained would cost a great deal less to repair. Hallsmith talks about yesterday’s solutions becoming today’s problems, as a means to illustrate such short sighted thinking. An example outside of the area of public policy is the example of people’s need for social interaction and that need requiring time. The lack of ability to do so leads to the creation of TV relationships which leads to less time to form real relationships and back around again. Without recognition, this flawed substitution can lead to dissatisfaction and more of the substitution behavior or other attempts to fill the void. The mention of these circles could be seen as obvious… perhaps not providing us with any new or particularly clever insight into many of our and our society’s destructive behavior. Despite the model’s straightforwardness, a simple model such as this can help us to gain insight into our own vicious cycles… a process much more difficult than seeing these cycles in others.
  • The concept of community capacity is a simple concept that cuts to the core of the question… What is sustainability? If a sustainable society is defined by the ability to go on for an indefinite amount of time, we cannot exceed our capacities and thus our ability to regrow or maintain those capacities over time. This is as close as I have come to finding a satisfactory definition of sustainability. Essentially, use only what can be replaced. Hallsmith extends the notion of capacity beyond relatively easily defined parameters in our physical world (environment, economy) into defining social capacity and linking the capacity for a communities amount of caring with that communities overall social health.

Key Aspects of Sustainable Communities

a) Communities are dynamic systems where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In a community, different components interact in a cyclical way to either enhance or worsen the status of the community. Each component – individuals, organizations, government, and resources – is critical for the overall functioning of a community and is affected by all the other components of such a community. A sustainable community is one that improves the quality of life of its members without diminishing their ability to have a good quality of life over the long-term.

The reason why communities exist is because they are crucial to meeting human needs. Individuals by themselves cannot meet all their needs, which include social, economic, governance, and resource needs. Sustainable communities work as a whole to meet all of the needs of its members and future members.

A sustainable community relies on strong community capacities (economic, environmental, governance, and social) to enhance natural, financial, social, and human capital. Community capacity is the aggregate of assets, which are available in a community to satisfy human needs, such as education, food and shelter, material resources, power, and leisure.

b) The reading about community structure and dynamics is essential to our course because it describes the inclusiveness that we will need to learn as a community. It also explains and provides examples of the way we must look at communities. In order to solve the problems of a community, we have to look at it as a whole rather than try to deal with individual components. This will be especially important with the community projects that are part of the course. In addition, the reading was particularly important to me because it supported my view that we must include all sectors of a community in decision-making and we must learn how to value the assets of communities (particularly environmental and social) if we want to achieve sustainability.

c) I agree that communities are dynamic systems where components affect and are affected by other components within the system. I also agree that for communities to become sustainable, they must be inclusive and they must value assets. However, I am concerned why there isn’t discussion about the barriers that prevent these key aspects of sustainable communities from happening. Why is it that, despite calls from citizens, businesses, and other communities, most cities and communities continue developing unsustainably? Why is it that governance continues to be exclusive and that communities are far from valuing assets? I believe that these are concerns that have to be mentioned in any discussion about making communities sustainable because they are about real barriers that prevent us from moving forward.