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Urban Sustainability

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

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Page last updated: 04/23/2010