True sustainable development takes finely coordinated planning and actions addressing the economy, society, and the environment. However, environmental and social justice organizations often only address isolated issues or concentrate on fighting problems and fires as they arise. When these groups do work together it is usually in loose and limited coalitions. These coalitions do serve an important purpose, but they are rarely able to coordinate their efforts, actions, and resources to address the root problems that a community might be facing.
The Community Sustainability Team solves the problem that sustainability coalitions often face because the Team is a small group of experts that work closely together to assess and address the underlying economic, environmental, and social issues in one community. The Team consists of a small group of community development, outreach, and organizing professionals working closely with volunteer and paid experts in the fields of economic development, marketing, community and environmental planning and management, sustainable agriculture, conservation ecology, political campaigning, media, and environmental and social justice legislation and litigation.
The Team will produce four products, including:
- An assessment of the community's major environmental, economic, and social issues, how they interrelate, who is doing what on those issues, and what is the capacity for change and improvement.
- Building the capacity and communication of existing groups, agencies, and organizations.
- An action plan and the community more sustainable.
- Providing ongoing expertise, resources, like helping identifying money, and motivation needed to carryout the action plan.
The Team Process
Team is invited into the community by the local government, a socially conscious business, a coalition of public interest groups, a government agency, or a non-profit organization.
The Team of experts then conducts a series of interviews with local groups to assess what are the local issues, problems, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and capacity. The assessment will not only study the issues but also the social justice, environmental, and economic development work and actions that have taken place in the past, are currently being worked on, and are planned for the future. Team members will meet with groups according to their area of expertise to both conduct interviews, explain how sustainability is in the organizations own interest, and encourage community leaders and organizations to actively participate in the creation and carrying-out of the action plan. For example, the team's conservation specialist will meet with Land Trusts while the business expert will meet with the Chamber of Commerce and local business leaders.
The Team will then compile a report from the assessment to draw connections between the social, environment, and economic realities in the community. This report will be the basis for creating an action plan.
The Team members will gather together local leaders to comment on the report and to craft an action plan for moving the community toward becoming sustainable. The basic premise of the action plan is to utilize local assets and strengths to address local needs and problems. The action plan draws upon and bolsters existing organizations, their work, and the community's strengths. Additionally, the team locates the resources needed to create new actions and organizations that are needed in the community. All actions need to address the underlying social, economic, and environmental roots of the community's problems.
An example Action Plan finding and project: The Team after working on the community assessment has found that the lack of affordable and comfortable housing is within existing city limits and infrastructure is forcing young families and others to build or locate cheap modular homes on open space outside of town resulting in a loss of farmland and open space, increased auto traffic, and sprawling uncomfortable and unattractive developments.
Additionally, city and county plans, regulations, and building codes favor this type of sprawling development. The Team pulls together affordable housing advocates, city and county planners, a local land trust, and a local developer to create the Action Plan. The plan includes locating the funding to building in-fill low-income housing that families will choose to live in, changing county and city regulations to make in-fill, affordable housing more feasible, and protecting open space. The Team provides organizing, financing, planning, logistical, and marketing support throughout the project with an evaluation after one year and assistance to build an ongoing program for affordable, attractive, and high-density housing in the community and to eliminate incentives for sprawling developments.
At the end of the first year, the Team will evaluate the plan and work with the committees to make modifications in plan in order to insure that it is able to reconstruct the community's root problems over time. The Team will also continue to act as a consultant to the committees providing dispute resolution, expertise, and the long-term commitment necessary to make the plan a reality over time.
Plan Helena, a local Helena, Montana, based planning and smart growth organization is interested in working with the Team process as a way of helping move Helena toward becoming more sustainable.