The Essence of Sustainable Planning

By Schwab, Jim | American Forests, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview

The Essence of Sustainable Planning


Schwab, Jim, American Forests


Planning and sustainability are naturally complementary ideas. It is all too easy, however, to maintain unsustainable practices, whether the issue is forestry, recycling, or urban sprawl. Sustainable development requires community or regional decisions that are considerably more complex than those required of individuals.

Planning is a process of channeling citizen involvement toward a consensus on ways to improve the community and guide its future. In recent years one popular tool for achieving this has been community indicators, which can help the public and decisionmakers monitor their progress toward agreed-upon goals. If those goals are based on principles whose object is sustainable development, the indicators can prod voters and elected officials to make necessary mid-course corrections.

Moreover, wall-designed indicators may help lead the communities. A metropolitan area like Detroit may well be far less than the sum of its parts because of the inequities between urban core and the suburban fringe, and much of Michigan's farmland may have been paved over too soon simply because the central city emptied out over the last generation like the hole in a doughnut.

What do we mean by sustainable development? The answer varies with individual communities, but the generic answer is a mode of development that heeds the need to integrate into public policy three overarching goals: social equity, environmental improvement, and economic prosperity. …

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