A shift toward sustainable development as a planning model has become increasingly apparent in Europe, but it has been little embraced by cities in the US. The biggest impetus for changing the world's development practice came as a result of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, at which the leaders of nearly all the world's countries acknowledged that development as currently practiced is not sustainable into the future, and that society is pushing enormous social and environmental costs onto future generations. The conference resulted in the Agenda 21 treaty, which enjoins both nations and local authorities to produce a sustainable development strategy.
The City of San Francisco took an early lead in adopting a sustainability plan in 1997, and many of the examples given here are based on its recent legislation and programs. This paper aims to support work being done in cities such as San Francisco and Santa Monica, California; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas and to help move other cities in the US toward a more sustainable model by jump-starting an understanding by civic planners and private developers of sustainable development strategies.
Traditional approaches to improving quality of life have been uncoordinated and often in conflict. A healthy economy is critically important, but inadequately regulated free enterprise shifts pollution and resource-depletion costs of manufacturing and development to poorer members of the community and to future generations. Wealth generation in a global economy is much easier for those with a certain baseline level of income and social status--a baseline many in the society do not reach. Environmental efforts have been forced to focus on crisis management, when harm prevention is the only real way to preserve natural resources and biodiversity. Efforts to help particular needy groups in the community have fought uphill against a built environment that undermines feelings of community and ignores many social needs. Only by balancing the competing needs of community, economy and environment can there be stable, long-term quality of life improvement that recognizes that nature has value independent of its usefulness to humanity. Sustainable development meshes:
Social progress which recognizes the needs of everyone for health, happiness, and a say in civic affairs;
Effective protection of the environment;
Prudent use of natural resources; and
Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment
to work toward a better quality of life for everyone, in harmony with the environment. San Francisco has adopted the goals and objectives set out in the Sustainability Plan for the City of San Francisco, which aim to provide for the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations and the natural world to meet their own needs. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency's mission, to improve the City housing, economic development and quality of life, has long acknowledged the need for an integrated approach to development. Many other cities have planning documents with similar comprehensive goals. Sustainable development strategies now rapidly being developed around the world provide a set of specific guidelines to achieve these policy objectives.
The interdisciplinary nature of sustainability planning, its requirement for addressing more issues than traditionally have been of concern to developers, and the rapidity with which new building and planning techniques appear, makes it difficult for civic planners to incorporate the approach into their work--to move sustainable development from a policy concept to one that becomes real on the ground. The following outline of strategies to achieve sustainable development takes advantage of the tremendous growth of information available on the worldwide web to provide a highly condensed summary of sustainable development practice. Its references, available instantly on the web, provide more depth on issues and practice with which the reader may be unfamiliar.
Each link takes you to a website that is unconnected with this paper. Use your browser "back" button to return. Notes describing each link
All links in this paper were active as of December, 2001.
For more detailed information on the whole range of sustainability issues and for technical assistance, contact the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) or the Local Government Commission (LGC).