What’s Sustainable, What’s Not?
A community is "sustainable" when it can continue to develop at current levels and not leave fewer resources – natural, economic, built, or social – for the next generation. Think of your town as an investment: Can you live off the interest and not touch the principal?
If your town keeps moving in the direction it’s going now, will there be open space, a diverse selection of well-paying jobs, a unique built environment, and other opportunities for your children?
By definition and because some resources are finite, growth
affects sustainability. In many ways, it’s a zero-sum game. If your
town adds a suburban office park, how do you balance that loss of
open space? To better understand and make choices, communities should
design cost-benefit analysis tools that consider financial, social,
and environmental trade-offs (what's called "triple bottom line"
An economy is sustainable if wages paid and benefits provided allow people to live in the town where they work. That’s not only fair, it turns out to be good business, too.
It’s not written in stone that communities have to grow. Most will, of course, but focus on the purposes driving growth. There’s a difference between quantitative growth (just more) and qualitative development (making things better). They’re not mutually exclusive, of course, but neither are they mutually deterministic; that is, growth doesn’t necessarily lead to a better standard of living and, in fact, it can have the reverse effect.