Why Sustainable Communities?
Sustainability is one of the key driving factors in all aspects of modern governance, planning and design, investment in the clean energy sector multiplied six times between 2004 and 2017, (Bloomberg), and Greening Government Commitments introduced in the UK in 2011 set about clear environmental targets for central government (HM Government, 2012).
To fully realise these changes however, it is imperative that sustainable approaches are implemented at all levels, including place making and community infrastructure. Improving sustainability in these areas can both limit financial expenditure through energy costs (26% reduction) and improve public health (Norwich University, 2019).
Defining Sustainable Communities
A number of bodies have attempted to define and encourage sustainable communities, such as LEED for Neighbourhood Design in the US, and work by the now disbanded Sustainable Development Commission in the UK. The recurring themes include reduction of vehicular transport, preservation of Greenfield, improvements to the public realm and implementation of green building and infrastructure (LEED, 2018) (SDC, 2007).
Where Communities fit within the Sustainable Ecosystem
The variety of components which make up a sustainable community require an array of different techniques to achieve, to explore how communities fit in to the overall concept of sustainability I will assess its place in one factor of sustainability, reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
On an individual level, people are able to reduce their energy usage, choose green energy suppliers, and implement design features, such as solar panels and other renewable energy provisions. However, the impact of these changes is reliant on the number of individuals who engage in these activities.
At the community level, changes can be implemented more rapidly with greater results; this has the benefit of engaging a larger population. For example, district heating systems can be used to provide combined heat and power for an entire community. Having one centralised unit for both heat and energy production means all buildings can be supplied by one energy source. CHP units have a high efficiency rating of around 86% compared to conventional power plants, which retain around 57% (Lewis, 1999: 108). These systems can also be powered by a wide range of fuels and renewables meaning entire communities can make the switch to these simultaneously, and new cleaner energy techniques can more quickly be rolled out than on an individual basis.
It is at the neighbourhood level that people spend their day-to-day life, and so it is at this scale that getting sustainability right is key. While governmental policy provides a strong rationale, and individuals can play their own part, it is through place making where the lived reality of sustainability plays out.
Bloomberg, UNEP, FS-UNEP Collaborating Centre. New investment in clean energy worldwide from 2004 to 2017 (in billion U.S. dollars). Statista. Accessed May 19, 2019. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/186807/worldwide-investment-in-sustainable-energy-since-2004/.
HM Government (2012). The Greening Government Commitments. HM Government. Accessed May 19, 2019. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69624/pb13846-greening-government-commitments.pdf
LEED (2018). LEED v4 for Neighbourhood Development. Accessed May 19, 2019. Available at: https://www.usgbc.org/resources/leed-v4-neighborhood-development-current-version
Lewis, J. (1999). A Green Vitruvius. London: James & James.
Norwich University (2019). The Importance of Creating Sustainable Communities. Accessed May 19, 2019. Available from: https://online.norwich.edu/academic-programs/masters/public-administration/resources/infographics/the-importance-of-creating-sustainable-communities
SDC (2007). Building houses or creating communities? Accessed May 19, 2019. Available at: http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/data/files/publications/SDC_SCP_report_2007.pdf