Return to the Sustainable Development pages
  Concepts related to Innovative Communities

Sustainable Communities


As with `sustainable development', there is no single accepted definition of sustainable communities. Much of the literature recognizes that communities must define sustainability from a local perspective. The dilemma is how to encourage democracy (participatory local processes) within a framework of sustainability (e.g., acknowledging global as well as local biophysical limits, inter- and intra-generational social equity, and an economy that satisfies individual and community needs rather than one that simply grows).

One interpretation of a sustainable community is a settlement which:

  1. Has a stable, healthy population;
  2. Understands that humans are only one of many life forms which share a sustainable region;
  3. Is a population with a strong sense of place, history, and global responsibility;
  4. Is empowered to guide an ecologically regulated economy based on the sustainable harvest and conservation of local natural resources;
  5. Shares both its surplus production and culture with other communities and regions;
  6. Has a collective ethic of conserving its culture and natural resources for future generations;
  7. Does not export pollution to other regions;
  8. Does not base its affluence on the draining of other regions of their resources;
  9. Reduces to a minimum income leakages which leave the community;
  10. Gains fullest possible value from harvest and manufacturing of natural resources through use of locally controlled and adapted appropriate technologies;
  11. Is committed to the goal of providing equal opportunity for a high quality of life for all residents of the community;
  12. Is a population which strives to continuously learn of its changing needs through the passage of time.
The building of sustainable communities requires sustainable community development, a community-based approach to development. which relies on self-help, community economic development, and ecological principles. This approach incorporates five major goals:

  • Working toward self-reliance;
  • Harmonizing with nature;
  • Attaining community control;
  • Meeting individual needs;
  • Building a community culture.
Case Study

Village Homes, Michael and Judy Corbetts' 70-acre (28 ha), 270-unit solar subdivision in Davis, California is a pioneering example of sustainability-by-design that has received considerable attention (e.g., Lang and Armour 1982, CalOAT 1979). The community is extremely energy efficient through intensive land use, prominent use of solar energy, functional landscaping (e.g., trees were selected for maximum summer and minimum winter shading), energy-efficient transportation (all roads end in cul-de-sacs, making it faster to walk than drive from one area to another, and a comprehensive greenbelt pathway is tied into the city bikeway network), and the active involvement of residents. The Corbetts attempted to promote "sense of community" through physical design and by establishing a homeowners' association to allow residents to participate in development and management decisions. (They also chose to reside in the community and Michael Corbett later became mayor of Davis.)


Return to
Innovative Communities