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The Sustainability Discourse and Sustainable Communities What are sustainable communities? How do we define them, and what are their characteristics? If developing sustainable communities will improve the quality of our lives, how do we create them? In this chapter, I focus on four themes that help differentiate environmental sustainability, or the NEP, from just sustainability, or the JSP. First, I look at the origins and the theoretical and practical aspects of sustainability , sustainable development, and sustainable communities, focusing on a critique of environmental sustainability. Second, I look at a few policy tools and policies currently available and being used in U.S. cities and in cities and regions elsewhere in the world, focusing on San Francisco ’s attempts to integrate environmental justice into its sustainable development policy. Third, I look at the characteristics of a sustainable community. And fourth, I look at the dominant sub-national environmental policy discourse in the United States, civic environmentalism, as it relates to sustainable communities, differentiating between narrowfocus and broad-focus civic environmentalism. The former is firmly within the NEP; the latter, within the JSP and EJP. Sustainable Development Theorizing Around the same time as environmental justice was developing as a public policy issue, the ideas of sustainability and sustainable development were achieving prominence among local, national, and international policymakers and politicians, together with policy entrepreneurs in NGOs. Since the 1980s, there has been a massive increase in published and online material dealing with sustainability and sustainable development. This has led to competing and conflicting views of what 2 39 the terms mean, what is to be sustained, by whom, for whom, and what is the most desirable means of achieving this goal. To some, the sustainability discourse is too all encompassing to be of any use. To others, the words are usually prefaced by “environmental” and “environmentally,” as in “environmental sustainability” or “environmentally sustainable development.” Environmental modernization, the dominant policy-based discourse of sustainable development in Europe , is, according to Smith (2003:4), a discourse of eco-efficiency. Its primary concern is the efficient use of natural resources within a capitalist framework (Hajer 1995; Christoff 1996; Gouldson and Murphy 1997). Criticisms have been leveled at the lack of attention paid to social justice (both within and between nations ) and the failure to conceive of nature beyond its value as a resource. To still others, the discourse offers a sense of integrity and holism that is lacking in contemporary, reductionist, silo-based policymaking. Indeed, the European trend is to talk of sustainable development policymaking as “joined up” or “connected” policymaking, that is, policymaking in specific areas—for example, housing, economic development, environmental justice, or environment—with an eye to its effect on the policy architecture as a whole as opposed to the policy silo from which it came. This is not currently the case in Massachusetts, where, as we saw in the previous chapter, there are policies for environmental justice and sustainable communities/community preservation, and there are principles of sustainable development, originating from agencies in the same department (OCD), which even with a substantial capital program behind them do not appear to be fully joined up. One thing I am increasingly sure of is that the science of sustainability is not our greatest challenge. In almost all areas of sustainability, we know scientifically what we need to do and how to do it; but we are just not doing it. An advertisement in the New York Times, paid for by, said the same: “It’s time to free ourselves from foreign oil, and create millions of new jobs in the process. This is no pipe dream. The research and technology exist. We have the national wealth. Do we have the will?” (New York Times 2004:a9). Sustainability is not alone in this respect. There are other examples in society where the science of an issue runs way ahead of public and political discourse, including stem cell research and euthanasia. 40 | The Sustainability Discourse and Sustainable Communities This gap between knowing and acting is what the Real World Coalition , an alliance of leading UK social movement organizations (SMOs), calls “the sustainability gap” (Christie and Warburton 2001). As Brulle (2000:191) argues, with the exception of Commoner, the vast majority of ecological scientists have not examined the social and political causes of ecological degradation (B. Taylor 1992:133–151). While the natural scientists may have great competence in their specific areas of expertise, their social and political thinking is “marred by blindness and...


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