Monday, August 27, 2007

Hallsmith: Key to Sustaiable Cities Response

In the Hallsmith reading, there were a few key concepts that should be noted. Her first is the concepts surrounding community. Community, to the author, is central to building a strong and sustainable society. She holds that there are four premises that define community. These are: communities were created to meet peoples needs, communities are systems and can be studied using a systems approach, community systems exist to meet all our needs, and the community system can be looked at holistically revealing the way the community interacts with its surroundings. This definition is critical to the rest of the reading as Hallsmith writes in depth of the various aspects of community. These premises are logical and follow each other. Communities were started to spread the workload around making life easier and more prosperous. This led to interactions explained in the systems approach. As this community grew, its needs expanded so to support these needs, the community also grew. Finally, by taking all of the parts of the community and looking at how they interact with other communities, a basic understanding of how prosperous and effective a community is.

The second key concept is how community is a whole system made up of many smaller parts. These parts include the three main actors in a community; individuals and households, organizations and businesses, and the government. These three branches work together to thrive and hopefully improve the community. She goes on to discuss how the three branches interact in very complicated ways and how by being helpful and cooperative, the three branches can live happier and more prosperous lives. This system can be studied using a system dynamics approach. This means of community study shows how complex a community interaction can be. It also shows how by expanding the parties involved, a system can spiral out of control very quickly and any slight feedback from an unintended party can quickly change the rest of the system yielding an unintended result. This is of importance when considering interactions with large parties such as in business situations.

The third key concept is one that is critical to a community’s longevity and that is sustainable development. She defines it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (34) This concept is crucial for the ongoing prosperity of a community because if the people can no longer live and prosper the way it used to, and can no longer find new ways to prosper, the community will wither and die. It also relates to the way communities use their natural resources. Issues such as drought and water shortages can result from not planning sustainably. These issues are of serious concern and can lead to large scale destruction and abandonment of towns and cities. This is also important when looking at a global community. Current trends lean towards overuse and waste. Within the not too distant future, these luxuries may run out and our way of life will collapse. Threats like these are very real and should be seen as a motivation to find new and revolutionary ways to go about our daily lives with less impact on the earth. Hopefully enough attention will be paid to sustainability that it becomes an industry standard and our environmental footprint will be reduced.

Reflection #1:Key to sustainable cities


Hallsmith uses simple language to explain the complicated interactions of human nature. I would imagine that when she looks at the varied conflicts humans get into, her solution would be an increased level of community. Community actors include 1)individuals/households 2)organizations and 3)governments. These actors create an interconnected web of interactions (community) that demand and supply its various and interrelated needs ( physical, economic, governmental and social ). Communities are thus made up of cyclical dynamics that satisfy the needs of the community members involved on a number of levels. Hallsmith discusses the many explanations for the various needs of human beings, citing Maslow, Manfred Max-Neef and Jurgen Habermas. After explaining the communities are made up of the various interactions that fulfill the needs of the individual, she then applies this concept to common community issues. Her chapter “Community capacity and sustainability” describes multiple scenarios in which the dynamic cycles of a community are not seen in whole and how this can lead to inefficient solutions. Inefficient solutions compound upon themselves, creating a negative feedback loop. If the problem which exists in the community which is causing it to not provide for the needs of the people in one area of their level of needs, this has an effect on the over levels of need. is seen as a whole. However, if the issue was seen as dysfunctional part of the whole which is effecting the provision of other needs, then the solution can be created that treats the problem and not its symptoms. In order to clearly think about a community as a whole system, systems thinking is necessary. Systems thinking allows us to analyze the causes and effects of a particular feedback loop so that we can appropriately react.

B) & C)

While Hallsmith’s explanations of communities as whole systems seemed to be repetitive and simplistic, her examples are issues commonly faced by all of us—which allows for practical application of the information she is sharing. I found it fascinating that the reading connects with so many of my life experiences and that I was able to personally relate to her arguments. Planning books often seem over analytical, repetitive and simplistic to many readers because these books organize thoughts that we all have about the communities we live in. Because we ourselves have pondered these issues, we find what is written to be beneath us, or somehow not adding to our intelligence. I would argue that we should resist the impulse and give ourselves and the authors a bit more credit. We have thought about the cause and effect of various community issues, but we most likely didn’t take the time and effort to share our insights with others. Hallsmith mentioned that communities suffer when people do not take the time to care for others, despite numerous innovations to increase efficiency. She takes this a step farther by pointing out that we try to reduce wasted time by falling into habits. This decreases the thought processes we use to judge the importance of each action we take in our day, so we end up brainlessly working at the job we hate to provide for the strangers that live in our homes who we call family.

Hallsmith introduces the phrase “critical mass” as the proportion of assets to the amount of need being met. Can critical mass exist outside of material resources? If so, then why doesn’t she use this word throughout the chapter?