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Framing and Defining the Sustainable Community Discourse: An Overview


Sustainability and sustainable communities are fast growing fields. Part of conceptualizing and defining what a sustainable community is and how it is measured is part of the current discussion on what are the characteristics of a sustainable community. There are various definitions and tools that are used to measure sustainable communities by experts, practitioners and scholars in the fields of sustainability science, sustainable development and environmental sustainability. Agyeman (2005) takes us through various theoretical and policy-based discourses of sustainable development, sustainability science, environmental justice, and environmental sustainability discourses, which emerged since the 1980s when the World Bank redirected its focus to developing countries in providing financial services in the form of large loans to expand their programs in social services rather than solely infrastructural development (World Bank 1980). These efforts, Agyeman noted, led to the establishment of several non-governmental and international non-governmental organizations with diverse, varying and conflicting views of what constitute the concept of “Sustainability” (Agyeman 2005). 
Similarly, in the 1960s the environmental justice movement, which emerged shortly after Rachel Carson’s book entitle “Silent Spring,” details some of the environmental “ills”  and mayhems from a pollutant submerge system and proposes a new “sustainable environmental” approach-a concept too that has far too many definitions and practices. Agyeman identified that with capital intensive sustainability programs; the problem is not associated with the “science of sustainability” or lack of knowledge, but rather the lack off or the inability to act,” which he associates with the Real World Coalition as the “sustainability gap” (Agyeman 2005, pg.40-41). Agyeman also agrees and endorses three interrelated themes that must be adhered to if sustainable development must be “sustainable.” He argues that environmentally sustainable communities or cities must as well be socially sustainable, that analyses and syntheses of development must not start with symptoms of economic and environmental instabilities, but with causes of these deficiencies, which are mostly products of societal ills (Agyeman 2005). He defines sustainability as the “need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and in the future, in a just and equitable manner, while living in the limits of supporting ecosystems (Agyeman 2003 in Agyeman 2005). The concept of sustainability is an integrated or holistic approach, which captures the entity of nature encompassing its political, socioeconomic, biological, and environmental systems making sure that our current needs are met in an equitable and equal manner without negatively impacting the needs and resources of future generations.
Bookchin (1998) takes a similar twist to the sustainability discourse, but he compares side-by-side the argument from both the social and deep ecological perspectives. His works on social ecology has roots in Marxist ideologies. He argues that the current paradigm of sustainability within the context of the environment has being blinded of the true meaning of what is and what is not sustainability and that this blindness is unique in such a way that it is supported by and base on cheap politics that is self-seeking and ambitious (Bookchin 1988). He also proposes that “more people are moving away from the 1970's environmentalism discourse to a more ecological approach, which is rooted in an ecological philosopher, ethics, sensibility, image of nature and ultimately an ecological movement that will transform the current Capitalistic system of market-based society into a nonhierarchical cooperative system in which consumers, producers, and the natural ecosystems live in balance and with respect to each other” (Bookchin 1998, pg. 242). Bookchin just like Agyeman argues that there are varying views when it comes to the expression of what is “ecology” or “sustainability.” Bookchin agrees with Agyeman that the real problem and causes of environmental or ecological degradation should form an integral part of a deep social problem and should rather be the focus rather than the symptoms that are usually emphasized.
The Lifton (2012) takes us through a journey around the world and allows us to view the environmental and social problems of the world through the lens of a political ecologist, scientist and proponent of the “Ecovillage” movement. Her works analyses the diversities and interrelatedness between Ecovillages in urban areas and those in rural areas as well as high-tech and low-tech areas. She noted that base on her travels and learning experiences from ecovillagers "sharing is one word that summarizes their very existence" (Liftin 2012). She concluded her article that ecovillagers’ capacity to share basic needs and necessities prove to be much lower than the per capita income in their respective home countries, which proves to be much sustainable. However, the question that comes to one mind is that how many of us are willing to sacrifice our resources, time, energy, and family security in this fast depressing economic times to live as Ecovillagers? Is it doable? It is a realistic approach in solving our current environmental, social, and economic mayhems? The answers to these questions depend largely on who is asking the question and what he or she is willing to do to make this a reality. There is no one universal approach in solving the current global problem of massive resource extractions and exploitations. However, every single step makes a difference and the impacts can be tremendous recognize when all these steps are jointly connected locally, nationally, regionally, and globally.
Register’s work on “Ecocities” takes a radical and critical look at the current status of cities vis-à-vis our current civilization and how cities have been a paramount component of our very existence and humanity, which defines us. He argues that with the current unsustainable trend of the development and modeling of modern cities, it is important to rethink how we plan and develop our cities so that it is based on ecological principles and promotes natural systems (Register 2002). He asserts that “what we build creates possibilities for, and limits on, the way we live" (Register 2002, pg.20), which I think captures his work in its entirety.

Works Cited

Agyeman, J. (2005). “The Sustainability Discourse and Sustainable Communities.” Ch 2. In Sustainable Communities and the Challenges of Environmental Justice. New York:  NYU Press.
Bookchin, M. (1988). Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology. Socialist Review 88(3):11-29.
Liftin, K. (2012). Gleanings from the Harvest:  Learning from Eco-Village Experiments around the World. SCORAI Conference. Vancouver, BC. March 8-10, 2012.
Register, R. (2002). As we build so shall we live. Ch 1 in Eco-Cities:  Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley:  Berkeley Hills Books.
World Bank (1980). "World Bank Historical Chronology: 1970-1979". World Bank Group. http://go.worldbank.org/847R4CBE80. Retrieved 01/20/2013.

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