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Home > Feature Articles > Municipality Strategies for Sustainable Community Best Practices

Sustainable Communities Require Organic Change

We're facing a new challenge -- rebuilding our cities from the subsoil to the sky. Sustainable cities are about the entire urban system that includes food, water, shelter, transportation, jobs, and education...and more, of course.

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Cities are starting to tackle the challenge, and PlanGreen in Portland, OR is one of the new breed of consulting firms that address both policy and programs to significantly impact a city's structure for the coming resource and carbon constrained era.

Having grown up on an organic farm, I understand the challenge facing us better than my "city slicker" friends might. I can tolerate a bit of dirt under my fingernails and the sight of organic fertilizer :-). But many people don't know what to expect...much less how to create a new vision and rational plan to get there.

My best advice is that planners look to nature as the model. Learn about natural systems -- their diversity, their interdependence, their slow rate of change, their redundancies, their reuse of everything...

PlanGreen expresses this approach by steering communities in the following directions:

  • Encouraging land use that allows people to live close enough to walk, bike or take transit to work, school, and services
  • Developing excellent urban design policies that help existing neighborhoods to embrace density
  • Investing in alternative transportation networks
  • Limiting road capacity increases
  • Creating disincentives to driving
  • Moving towards food system security though promotion of local urban agriculture
  • Adopting highly effective measures to promote green building and renewable energy
  • Instituting a green streets program

PlanGreen helps communities utilize ecosystem services to both reduce costs for infrastructure and regenerate their landscape. They, and other sustainability consulting, educating and engineering/construction firms build on the most advanced technologies to create policy, programs and project implementation to:

  • Infiltrate stormwater to recharge streams and rivers
  • Improve the water quality of your streams and rivers
  • Take pressure off your combined sewer system
  • Soften the streetscape
  • Increase evapotranspiration and carbon sequestration
  • Reduce the urban heat island effect
  • Provide traffic calming
  • Add landscape amenities for adjacent private property
  • Provide habitat for your native pollinators
  • Educate residents about their natural heritage
  • Celebrate your native landscape

Sustainability requires a change of attitude on the same scope inspired by President Kennedy when he inspired our entire nation to support the journey to the moon. This race is against a different kind of destructive force -- over-consumption that is destroying the earth's resources faster than the earth can replenish them.

But there are solutions. And the key element is you. Your determination to reduce your impact and add to the restorative system of natural systems. Even when you live in the city!


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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