There’s a lot of talk about sustainability lately. I’m sick of the buzzword, but I love the concept; I’ve often run processes, projects, and goals through my own sustainability filter of “Is this something that can be done with authenticity/integrity, whose benefits outweigh its costs, whose philosophy or patterns can be continued down another generation or two or ten if necessary without destroying or compromising the [family, environment, economy, insert your criterion here]?”
As Northfield begins to undertake the revision of its Comprehensive Plan, the Bible of what Northfield as a community wants to stand for, become, and look like, “sustainability” is a concept that should be understood and considered as much as possible, whether we’re talking about it from the environmental, economic, social, or other viewpoint.
One of the inherent tensions in planning is balancing the needs and rights of the individual against the “common good”. Personally, I believe it’s easier to do the balancing in a small community, if only because our civic leaders are move accessible and the common good may be a bit easier to fathom and define.
A recent Op-Ed on the Planetizen website articulated the philosophical underpinnings of the sustainability concept, and provided some tasty food for thought.
Now more than ever, the future of cities and towns and villages must be something that is deliberately created through public choice. It can no longer be left so much to the forces of the market. That’s because the only signal that the market heeds is price. But that signal isn’t enough to protect our future. There are many other signals that must be heard and heeded.
Why isn’t price enough? Because the future depends on the protection of the commons, those public spaces, amenities and resources that are being polluted, depleted and degraded. It is the forests, soil, air and the water on which all of our lives depend. Commons fall outside the forces of the market. The services they provide cannot be boxed and sold and the costs of their loss and depletion are being left off the corporate balance sheets. Because of that, their protection can only be found in the realms of individual decisions — what each of us decides to do on our own — and public policy — what all of us decide to do as citizens, collectively.
Achieving sustainability requires a more sophisticated view of the commons, one that extends beyond the world of natural processes and into the social. It should include not only forests and farmland, but also the public squares, the city parks, the paths and corridors, and the buildings that give our communities character and identity.
On a practical level, the piece continues, this can be done by:
. . . Viewing local farmlands, forests and rivers as indispensable for their productive and replenishment capacities, as well as their contribution to beauty and sense of place. By encouraging locally owned manufacturing enterprises that utilize local resources and diminish dependence on external resources. By replacing oil and coal, which have to be imported, with wind and solar power, which are generated locally. By seeding and nourishing local talent. By viewing taxes as an opportunity to build local inherent capacities for productive activity and satisfying living.
What do you say, fellow citizens? Are we up to the challenge?