There is a clear connection between today’s actions and the quality of life that will be possible for future generations. The concept of sustainability is based on the premise that people and their communities are made up of social, economic, and environmental systems that are in constant interaction and must be kept in harmony or balance if the community is to continue to function to the benefit of everyone— now and in the future. Sustainability is an ideal toward which to strive and against which to weigh proposed actions, plans, expenditures, and decisions. Achieving sustainability requires innovation, foresight, and effective partnerships among citizens, businesses, governments, and other groups. As planners, we have an opportunity to help educate and develop plans to enhance the overall sustainability of the communities we work in.
This tool kit is intended to provide information to assist planners in assessing the need for sustainable practices and develop strategies to implement practices that will have the greatest impact to improve quality of life and make our communities more resilient to unforeseen changes, even catastrophic events such as hurricanes and storm surge. The concept of resilience provides a fresh and useful perspective on sustainable development . Resilient communities are capable of bouncing back from adverse situations. They can do this by actively influencing and preparing for economic, social and environmental change. When times are bad they can call upon a myriad of resources that make them a healthy community.
“Sustainability requires a broad range of actions that include contributions from all levels of government, from all sectors of the economy, and from all of the citizenry. City and county governments are uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution to the effort. They are directly involved in providing or regulating many of the human activities that affect resource use, promote economic development, and affect the protection and inclusion of persons from all economic levels and racial and ethnic groups. The ICMA Local Government Sustainability Policies and Programs survey of 2010 is a major effort to examine how local elected officials and administrators have acted so far to address the sustainability challenge.” 1
What is a sustainable community? A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient. It meets challenges through integrated strategies and solutions rather than through fragmented, disjointed approaches that solves only one problem at the expense others. And, it takes a long-term perspective – one that is focused on both the present and future, well beyond the next budge or election cycle. As a result, sustainable communities effectively manages its human, natural and financial resources to meet current needs while ensuring that adequate resources are equitably available for future generations.
Where should planning for sustainability begin? You can begin by acting on what you can control. Local governments can affect their own operations, regulate certain activities within their jurisdictions, and help in the education and mobilization of their citizens. Moving beyond these efforts, local jurisdictions can also be active participants in and advocates for larger regional, state or even national movements for change. The U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement is but one example of this longer term approach.
Within a traditional planning framework, one of the key places to start is to understand the problem. Begin by surveying current research on the sustainable action topics that are identified in Livable Florida. Evaluate how these action topics are being addressed in your community to improve sustainability. If your jurisdiction has completed an inventory, it can indicate where your efforts may have the most impact. If you haven’t already done one, consider investing the time needed to complete one.
Working beyond the information stage, you will need to develop a policy framework that is integrated with your local planning system. This can be done by: 1) adding goals and policies that address sustainability issues into your existing plans, or 2) developing a new “Sustainability” or “Climate Change” element within your comprehensive plan. The important thing is to make sure that the policy direction you add is not a stand-alone statement — it needs to be integrated with your entire plan, as well as with municipal or county operations. It is important to emphasize that a sustainability plan should be a means, not an end.
Beyond the policy framework, you will also need to develop strategies, actions, and performance measures or feedback loops to assess progress as you move forward. Strategies and action plans are becoming more prevalent, and can provide ideas for your local situation.
1 A 2010 survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and developed by the Center for Urban Innovation in cooperation with the Alliance for Innovation and the Sustainable Cities Network in the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.