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Planning for Sustainability

Sustainable Practices for Communities and Municipalities:

Workshops, Training, Designing & Facilitating Planning Processes

Sarah James designs and facilitates workshops, training, and planning processes that enable citizens and local officials to implement sustainable practices in their own communities. Workshops and training introduce a process through which a municipality can comprehensively and systematically integrate "new playing rules" throughout the range of municipal services and activities – public facilities, infrastructure, land use, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resource protection, among others. This approach combines use of sustainability principles based upon the Natural Step framework with a carefully-designed and tested participatory planning process. This participatory process, developed and refined over many years, has resulted in over forty successfully-adopted, citizen-based plans and action proposals in New England and beyond.

About Sarah James

Sarah James is a city/town planner by education and trade who has adapted and worked with the Natural Step approach and framework in community planning contexts for several years. Highlights of her experience include:

bulletPresentations and workshops throughout New England and nationally on how to integrate sustainability principles into planning, community development, and municipal practices.
bulletCo-author of the American Planning Association’s Policy Guide Planning for Sustainability, adopted in 2000, that uses the Natural Step framework as the basis for its guiding planning policy objectives. (See: www.planning.org/govt/sustdvpg.htm]
bulletCo-founder of Sustainable Step New England (SSNE), a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainability education in the New England region.
bullet15-year consulting practice in city/town planning and community development.
bulletWork with over 25 towns and cities in New England and beyond.

Sarah James holds a Masters Degree in City Planning from the Harvard Design School.

A Municipality: "What’s the Beef?"

Communities – towns and cities - are increasingly experiencing trends that are unsustainable, such as:

bulletA diminishing supply of land
bulletIncreasing scarcity and contamination of water
bulletEver-increasing traffic congestion
bulletHousing priced out of the realm of long-term residents and their children
bulletIncreasing demands of citizens for services coupled with decreasing willingness to pay higher taxes.

These local trends reflect national and global trends that also are unsustainable – natural systems that are deteriorating faster than they can be renewed, while consumption and population are rising exponentially and disproportionately.

Well-intentioned local efforts to combat these trends have mostly occurred through separately designed "piece-meal" solutions. Because of this approach, one solution often has created another, usually unintended, problem. Or, the "solution" has resulted in conflicting policies and procedures within the same municipality. For example, some communities that have attempted to manage growth and preserve open space without provision for housing affordability have found themselves bereft of places to live for local workers, teachers, and their own grown children who wish to remain living in the community. Many communities are realizing that transportation policies of widening and "improving" state and local roads to alleviate traffic congestion and safety have in turn created even more traffic use. One branch of local government adopts safer, chemical-reducing practices to control insects and weeds on school playing fields and parks, while another local agency sprays the entire community with pesticides in an effort to ward off the West Nile virus.

"What’s a Way Out?"

What’s needed, as some see it, is a different set of "playing rules" – a set that aims in a healthier, more "sustainable" direction. A sports team has players, each of whom has a different role and responsibility in their game. They are able to function because they share a common understanding of the rules that guide how that game is played. Without that common understanding, there would be conflict and chaos – much less a winning team. Correspondingly, a community or municipal "team’s" roles and responsibilities include service provision, public facilities, infrastructure, transportation, land use, economic development, natural and cultural resource protection, housing - among others. What kind of playing rules could aim these disparate, often conflicting community players in a common "sustainable" direction?

"A Different Set of Playing Rules"

During the early 1990s, a group of scientists in Sweden, led by an oncologist, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt, developed a consensus about how human activities needed to be altered to meet human needs without destroying the earth. Out of this process, which took several years, emerged a framework of principles, based upon laws of science and nature, that has come to be known as the Natural Step framework for sustainability. Over the past several years, this framework has come to be used by municipalities, corporations, and government to guide and reorient policies and operations toward the direction of sustainability. These principles are applicable at any level of society or in any context. Because of this, they are particularly suited as new "playing rules" for guiding community and municipal action in the direction of sustainability.

 

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Copyright © 2003 Sarah James & Associates