The Key to Sustainable Cities

Meeting Human Needs, Transforming Community Systems

by Gwendolyn Hallsmith

Number of pages: 256

Publisher: New Society Publishers

BBB Library: Technology and Globalization

ISBN: 978-0865714991

About the Author

Gwendolyn Hallsmith, the founder and Executive Director of Global Community Initiatives (GCI), has over 25 years of experience working with municipal, regional, and state government in the United States and internationally. She has served as a City Manager, a Regional Planning Director, Senior Planner for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy Resources, the Deputy Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and as an international specialist on sustainable community development.


Editorial Review

All over the world, cities and towns are challenged with sudden and significant increases in population that tax their ability to meet the needs of residents. A great migration is underway. Some 20 million people move to cities every year, a human transmigration unprecedented in history. From 1950 to 1990 the population of the world’s cities went up from 200 million to over two billion, with three billion people expected by 2025.  Today, there are 20 megacities of over 10 million people and 19 out of the world’s 25 largest cities are in developing countries. Worldwide, 60 cities have now grown to over 4 million people.

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Wisdom to Share

Population is not the only factor that can disrupt a community's ability to meet local needs, but it does tend to influence the demand side of the equation.

Understanding the flows of resources through the community system can help us understand the sustainability of the system as a whole — on the social, political, economic, and environmental levels.

In order to meet our needs today without denying future generations the ability to meet theirs, we have to be mindful of how we enhance or erode the capacities we have to meet all the different needs.

Community capacity has several characteristics. The capacities of each system — social, governance, economic, and material — are all made up of particular elements that satisfy particular needs.

For environmental goods and services, the capacity to meet the demands that are made has been described as the carrying capacity, the sustainable level at which a particular natural or physical resource can be used.

The systems transactions that erode or enhance the carrying capacity of a community are the exchanges of material goods and services among the different actors.

If our exchange of goods and services exceeds the natural world's ability to provide them, and to stay healthy with rich and whole biodiversity and ecosystems, then the community system is inherently unsustainable.

If people do not feel as if they are in control of their own lives, free to make their own choices, how does this express itself in terms of an unmet need?

By concentrating power in fewer and fewer hands, the capacity to meet these needs is reduced, and the governance system as a whole in a community will be less and less sustainable.

For the purposes of understanding how communities can change to be more sustainable, the community is defined as a system that is in place to meet our needs.