Answering the Questions Behind Sustainable Communities

There are various definitions floating around.  Some suggest a sustainable community is one that caters to the current population’s daily needs such as shelter, employment and social interaction while others look further forward, saying sustainable communities do not compromise the needs of future generations.

Much of the focus on creating so-called ‘sustainable communities’ has been on the built form such as the concept of five-star houses. However, a suburb of five-star houses does not make a sustainable community.  Other initiatives, such as reducing water and energy use or generating power on-site can contribute to sustainability, but these too are only part of the equation.  Access to public transport, services and community infrastructure are all necessary ingredients too.

What has really been lacking in the concept of sustainable communities to date is the very notion of ‘community’.  Successful communities are those that are diverse in terms of age, income, gender, race, religion, dwelling type and mix of uses.  Many places that claim to be ‘sustainable communities’ fail to actually achieve this diversity, relying instead on the ‘community centre’ with its program of activities to create this sense of community.

The missing social sustainability aspects of our new communities results in places that can be mono-cultural but, more significantly, they become places with limited flexibility to change and evolve over time as the needs of the population change.

Despite all the rhetoric, Australia is largely lacking in good examples of truly sustainable new communities.  Places like Subiaco in Western Australia come close due to their mixed uses, good public transport, higher density housing and diverse dwelling types, access to employment and retail.

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July 18, 2012

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