UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Creating sustainable communities Bailey, Sharon Kimberley


The objective of this thesis is to explore the procedural and substantive changes that are required to create communities that are sustainable in ecological and social terms, both on a global and local level. Current environmental problems such as global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain and deforestation indicate that human activity is changing the biosphere at an unprecedented rate. While the western world celebrates the apparent triumph of the capitalist industrial free market system, the by-products of industrialization, including the deteriorating health of the biosphere and the increasing demands of developing nations, appear to pose serious threats to the long term sustainability of biological communities including human communities. A community is defined geographically by its physical structure, socially by its shared values, and politically by its capacity for self-determination. Creating a sustainable community requires that fundamental change occurs physically, to minimize a community's impact on ecological systems; socially, to establish a consensus on ecological and social values for the community; and, politically, to improve the capability of communities to implement appropriate locally-based solutions to environmental and social problems. The fact that western society has allowed life-threatening global environmental and social problems to emerge indicates that there may be a serious flaw in the way the dominant society perceives reality and humanity's place in the world. Consequently, this thesis begins with an analysis of the flaws in the dominant world view and the potential for an emerging ecological world view to form the basis for defining a sustainable community and establishing principles for ecological and social sustainability to guide community development. A sustainable community is defined as a community that is responsible, caring, empowered, healthy, and most importantly, in balance with nature. While there are numerous approaches to creating sustainable communities, the choices that a community should make are clearer if the community has a set of values or principles to define the goals they are trying to achieve. The principles for ecological sustainability presented in this thesis are based on current ecological theories and reflect the need for communities to preserve biological diversity, maintain the productive capacity of ecosystems, integrate human activity with nutrient cycles, minimize resource and energy consumption, and establish a dynamic equilibrium between human and natural systems. The principles for social sustainability are based on current literature and emphasize the need for communities to change societal values, meet basic needs, achieve equity, promote self-determination, and create a sustainable economy. This thesis proposes that creating a sustainable community involves both designing procedural mechanisms to support social transformation, and implementing substantive changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of the community. A process for change must include mechanisms to build community consensus on the need and direction of change, and to co-ordinate actions both within the community and with other levels of government. Specific examples of necessary substantive changes are provided based on the application of the principles for ecological and social sustainability to many aspects of community activity including land use planning, economic development, waste management, resource use, and transportation. A short examination of various models of sustainable community initiatives are provided to illustrate a variety of experiments in new institutions, processes and policy proposals currently being undertaken in North America that can be drawn upon by communities trying to implement local solutions to environmental and social problems.

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