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As growth, consumption, and globalization increase, today’s urban areas are threatening their own resource bases and undermining the viability of ecologies worldwide. Cities, and the exploitative activities generated by them, continue to disrupt the planetary support systems on which humanity depends. Solving the problems caused by cities, as well as solving the problems of cities, is a massive challenge.
Traditional ways of organizing community resources to meet human needs have substantially changed with industrialization and mass urbanization. Urban sustainability strategies must involve a discussion of both the technical possibilities and the underlying power issues necessary for ecological governance in urban areas. The institutional constraints of centralized governments and corporations, and long-distance patterns of consumption, have so far prevented the development of local/global solutions and policies. Community participation in decisions affecting communities is at the heart of an emerging ecological democracy. In our cities, new governance structures must respond appropriately to the needs and circumstances unique to each community.
Smart growth is an ecologically sound and community-based approach to planning and development in urban communities. Smart growth emerged in the United States, and has been taken up in Canada, as a response to the problems associated with urban/suburban sprawl. The negative impacts of sprawl include the destruction of habitat and agricultural land, automobile dependence (and its associated implications for global resource use) and the creation of suburbs without a sufficient sense of place and community. Smart growth offers practical solutions to the problems posed by sprawl, primarily through changes in local policy. Preserving forested and agricultural land, improving public transit, creating affordable housing and increasing citizen participation in community development are among the objectives of smart growth. A few smart growth tools include: demand management, urban containment boundaries, densification and infilling, green design practices, and increased citizen involvement in planning processes.
Most recently, practical smart growth activities at the POLIS Project have focused primarily on two issues – campus planning at the University of Victoria, and community gardening / urban agriculture.
Related Projects and Initiatives
- Planetary University, a POLIS project promoting the university as a local model of planetary sustainability
- Common Energy, a UVic network associated with POLIS working to find solutions to the climate crisis in Victoria
- SmartGrowth BC, an independent NGO created by POLIS and West Coast Environmental Law in 1999
- Creating More Livable Communities Conference, co-sponsored by POLIS in June 2001
- Georgia Basin Puget Sound Research Conference
- Growing Healthy Communities, a former POLIS project launched to examine the role of community gardens in creating more livable communities
- South Island Sustainable Communities Network, co-founded by POLIS in 1998 to respond to Victoria’s Regional Growth Strategy. Read report A Capital Idea
- Bringing Habitat Home, a POLIS workshop in Oct 1996 following the UN Habitat Conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Read keynote address
- Planet U: Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University by Michael M’Gonigle and Justine Starke (New Society, 2006)
- Uncommon Ground: Creating Complete Community at the University of Victoria (POLIS, 2005)
- The Garden City Handbook: How to Create and Project Community Gardens in Greater Victoria (POLIS, 2002)
- Seeds of Success: Growing Health Communities Through Community Gardening (POLIS, 2002)
- A Path Less Taken: Planning for Smart Growth at the University of Victoria (POLIS, 2002)
- University of Victoria Sustainability Project (UVSP)
- World Urban Forum
Page last updated: 04/23/2010