Academic journal article Cityscape

Advancing Social Equity as an Integral Dimension of Sustainability in Local Communities

Academic journal article Cityscape

Advancing Social Equity as an Integral Dimension of Sustainability in Local Communities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the 1980s, sustainability-defined as measures to protect and enhance the environment, the economy, and equity for current residents and future generations-has become an issue of increasing importance both domestically and internationally. In the past decade, local governments in the United States have demonstrated increasing leadership in this area. Some exemplary local government officials have worked in partnership with businesses, nonprofit organizations, community organizations, and residents to collaboratively develop programs to create more vibrant, resilient communities. With these collaborative initiatives as the locus of most of the sustainability activity in the United States, it is important to increase our understanding about how local governments articulate the connection between equity and other dimensions of sustainability. A comprehensive approach to achieving sustainability should address the "three Es"-environment, economy, and equity-but in practice, the equity dimension often receives less attention and may not even be incorporated in a government's sustainability program.

In 2010, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) conducted its Local Government Sustainability Policies and Programs Survey and found that most local governments were still in the early stages of addressing sustainability. Most placed emphasis on long-standing areas of commitment, such as recycling and the environment, and also on new areas, such as energy conservation, but only a minority of governments had developed comprehensive sustainability programs (Svara, Read, and Moulder, 2011). Few local governments were adopting measures to promote social equity. Without a strong commitment to social equity, local governments have moved only part of the way to achieving true sustainability. The experience of American urban areas shows that inequality and social exclusion are not sustainable practices, because they undermine the viability of communities. Thus, communities may have programs that protect the natural environment, reduce energy use, and address other aspects of sustainability, but without programs to promote social equity, they are not strengthening their social foundation for long-term viability.

Our research examines the definition of social equity, the level of commitment of local governments in addressing equity issues, and the extent to which social equity activities are included within an integrated approach to sustainability. Social equity means redressing injustices and remediating damages that were previously incurred, fully incorporating all segments of the community in the political decisionmaking process, and establishing measures to prevent future inequities from occurring (Johnson and Svara, 2011). Such efforts include expanding opportunity and promoting equal access to public services, providing equal service quality, ensuring procedural fairness, and striving for equal opportunity in such areas as education, health, and employment. The social equity dimension of sustainability refers to how burdens and benefits of different policy actions are distributed in a community. The more evenly they are distributed, the more equitable the community is, and this even distribution is reflected in economic, écologie, and social outcomes.

This article describes the current activities, leading practices, and achievements of communities that seek to achieve true sustainability. It is a summary of the full report Local Governments, Social Equity, and Sustainable Communities (ICMA, 2014).' Such communities were created through a comprehensive, integrated approach to sustainability supported by inclusive engagement, equal access to services, and livable neighborhoods. Our analysis examines all local governments that responded to the ICMA 2010 survey, focusing in particular on the characteristics of the minority of governments-fewer than 1 in 10-that are very active in social equity. …

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