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EarthTalk Tuesday: What are sustainable communities?


EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: The term “sustainable communities” gets bantered around quite a bit today. Could you define it for me? -- Holly Parker, Mechanicsburg, PA

Kaid Benfield, Sustainable Communities program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), uses the term “sustainable communities” to describe places “where use of resources and emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants are going down, not up; where the air and waterways are accessible and clean; where land is used efficiently and shared parks and public spaces are plentiful and easily visited; where people of different ages, income levels and cultural backgrounds share equally in environmental, social and cultural benefits; where many needs of daily life can be met within a 20-minute walk and all may be met within a 20-minute transit ride; where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices.”

In his March 2011 NRDC ‘Switchboard’ blog post entitled “A Trip to Sustainaville,” Benfield lays out his vision for what a model of sustainable communities could look like, with neighborhoods sporting healthy amounts of green space and shared vegetable gardens; mass transit, biking and walking replacing the majority of automobile traffic; and mixed use communities where schools, residences and commercial spaces are near each other and are powered by solar panels, geothermal heat pumps or windmills.

According to the Vermont-based Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), sustainable communities are “economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient” and meet “challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches.” And perhaps more important: Sustainable communities take a long-term perspective, focusing on “both the present and future, well beyond the next budget or election cycle” so that the needs of the current as well as future generations are met with adequate resources. ISC adds that the success of a community’s efforts to be sustainable depends on its members’ commitment and involvement as well as leadership that is inspiring, effective and responsive.

Some of the ways ISC has worked to further its goals include helping teach leaders from low income U.S. communities along the Gulf of Mexico how energy efficiency and ecological restoration can revitalize their otherwise struggling economies; developing community sustainability initiatives throughout
war-ravaged parts of Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia; installing green roofs on residences in the Chinese city of Shenzen as a pilot project to show how such “technologies” can yield significant carbon sequestration and other environmental benefits, and many more.

Key to any consideration of what makes a community sustainable is the acknowledgement that there is no such thing as perfection. “Sustainability is a process of continuous improvement so communities constantly evolve and make changes to accomplish their goals,” reports Sustainable Communities Online, a web-based information and networking clearinghouse started in the 1990s by a broad coalition of sustainability-oriented organizations and managed by the Washington, DC-based non-profit CONCERN Inc. Those looking to learn more about sustainable communities and what makes them tick should be sure to check out sustainable.org, Sustainable Communities Online’s information-packed website.

CONTACTS: NRDC Sustainable Communities, www.nrdc.org/sustainable-communities/; Institute for Sustainable Communities, www.iscvt.org; Sustainable Communities Online, www.sustainable.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine ( www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.


DiálogoEcológico
De los Redactores de E/La Revista Ecológica

Querido DiálogoEcológico: El término “comunidades sostenibles” se usa bastante hoy. ¿Lo podrían definir para mí? -- Holly Parker, Mechanicsburg, PA

Kaid Benfield, director de programa para Comunidades Sostenibles del Consejo de Defensa de Recursos Naturales (NRDC), utiliza el término "comunidades sostenibles" para describir lugares "donde el uso de recursos y emisiones de gases invernaderos y otros contaminantes está en descenso, no en expansión; donde el aire y vías navegables son accesibles y limpios; donde la tierra es utilizada eficientemente y donde abundan parques y espacios públicos compartidos y fácilmente frecuentados; donde personas de edades, niveles de ingresos y trasfondos culturales comparten igualmente beneficios ambientales, sociales y culturales; donde muchas necesidades de la vida cotidiana pueden ser satisfechas a pie en 20 minutos y todo puede encontrarse con un viajecito por auto dentro de 20 minutos; y donde la industria y oportunidad económica acentúan prácticas sanas en concordancia con el ambiente".

En su posteo de marzo 2011 para su blog "Switchboard" de NRDC titulado "Un Viaje a Sustainaville,"* Benfield aclara su visión para lo que podría entederse como un modelo de comunidades sostenibles, con vecindarios que ostentan cantidades respetables de espacio verde y jardines compartidos de verduras; transporte público, bicicletas y peatones reemplazando la mayoría del tráfico automotriz; y con comunidades de uso "mixto" donde espacios educacionales, residenciales y comerciales están cerca unos de otros y todos son conectados a electricidad por paneles solares, bombas geotérmicas o molinos de viento.

Según el Instituto para Comunidades Sostenibles (ISC), basado en Vermont, las comunidades sostenibles son "económicamente, ambientalmente y socialmente sanas y fuertes" y cumplen con "los desafíos mediante soluciones integradas en vez de enfoques fragmentados". Y quizás más importante: Las comunidades sostenibles usan una perspectiva a largo plazo, centrándose en "tanto el presente como el futuro, bien más allá del próximo ciclo de presupuesto o elección" para que las necesidades de la generación actual y futuras sean satisfechas con recursos adecuados. ISC agrega que el éxito de los esfuerzos de una comunidad para ser sostenible depende del cometido de sus miembros y su participación así como un liderazgo que inspira, y que es efectivo y responde bien a las peticiones del público.

Algunos de las maneras en que ISC se ha movido para promover sus objetivos incluye ayudar a enseñar a líderes de comunidades pobres estadounidenses del Golfo de México cómo la eficiencia de energía y restauración ecológica pueden revitalizar sus economías que de otro modo andarían en apuros; desarrollar iniciativas comunitarias de sostenibilidad a través de partes devastadas por la guerra de Kosovo, Serbia y Macedonia; instalar techos verdes en residencias de la ciudad china de Shenzen como un proyecto piloto para mostrar cómo tales "tecnologías" pueden rendir un secuestro significativo de carbón y otros beneficios ambientales, y muchos más.

Clave para cualquier consideración de lo que hace a una comunidad sostenible es el reconocimiento que no existe la perfección. "La sostenibilidad es un proceso de mejora continua de modo que las comunidades evolucionan constantemente y hacen cambios para lograr sus objetivos," informa Sustainable Communities Online, un banco de información e interconexión en línea creado en los años noventa por una coalición amplia de organizaciones orientadas a la sostenibilidad y manejadas por el grupo no comercial CONCERN Inc., basado en Washington. Los que buscan aprender más acerca de comunidades sostenibles y lo que las motiva deben estudiar sustainable.org, una página web en línea repleta de información.

CONTACTOS: NRDC Communities,www.nrdc.org/sustainable-communities/; Institute for Sustainable Communities, www.iscvt.org; Sustainable Communities Online, www.sustainable.org.

EarthTalk® (DiálogoEcológico) es escrito y editado por Roddy Scheer y Doug Moss y es una marca registrada de E - La Revista Ecológica (www.emagazine.com). Traducción española de Patrice Greanville. Sírvase enviar sus preguntas a: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Suscripción: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Pida un número gratis: www.emagazine.com/trial.

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